The Poppy War

By R. F. Kuang,

Book cover of The Poppy War

Book description

Winner of the Reddit Fantasy Award for Best Debut 2018

'The best fantasy debut of 2018' - WIRED

A brilliantly imaginative epic fantasy debut, inspired by the bloody history of China's twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic.

When Rin aced the Keju - the test to find the…

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Why read it?

5 authors picked The Poppy War as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

When I first started reading this book, I thought it would be like every other fantasy novel featuring an orphan who goes to an elite school for magic. How wrong I was! Unlike the other books on this list which are more or less set in our world (but with magic!) The Poppy War is actually a secondary world fantasy.

What warrants its place on the list (besides being very good) is the fact that the plot points mirror the events of World War II, specifically the fighting between Japan and China.

This book is not for the faint of…

I loved the characterisation of all the players in the novel, especially the protagonist, Rin, who had a sarky wit. The writing was full of action and humour but also somber when it needed to be such as the scenes of massacre and war crimes.

The book taught me a lot about the Sino-Japanese war which appeals to me as I am fascinated by oriental history especially China and Japan. I was born in Singapore of mixed race – Indian, Iranian and Chinese heritage, raised by a Chinese grandmother and mother. The book helped me connect to my Chinese roots.

The Poppy War is an epic, grim military fantasy inspired by the Sino-Japanese wars. Rin, a war orphan from the southern Rooster Provinces, aces the Empire-wide admittance exam to Sinegard–the premier military academy in Nikan. But as a dark-skinned peasant from a rural province, Rin’s struggles only compound as she fights for acceptance among her aristocratic peers. And when the fragile peace with Mugen is broken, Rin discovers her greatest powers come at even greater costs. 

I adore how The Poppy War combines the very best of the fantasy academia genre with military fantasy. Add in some heavy historical allegories,…

From L.J.'s list on non-western fantasy.

At first, The Poppy War seems like an edgier version of Harry Potter: an outcast-at-the-academy story with a slightly older protagonist, drugs, and a few incidents of self-harm. Then the book veers into Hell.

The setting has a lot to do with it. The Poppy War takes place in a fantasy version of 20th-century China; the eventual focus is a magic-infused retelling of the Second Sino-Japanese War, which included a slaughter sometimes referred to as the “Forgotten Holocaust.”

So, yeah: not a bedtime story to enjoy with your kids. I also wouldn’t start The Poppy War if you’re not in…

The first book in a celebrated trilogy by R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War more than earns its fame with innovative worldbuilding, an absorbing and sometimes shocking plot, and beautifully concise writing. But the reason it’s on this list is the way it deals with an almost unimaginable horror, taken from our real world into the realm of fantasy in a way that neither sensationalizes nor diminishes history. I am a descendant of genocide survivors twice over, which makes Kuang’s ability to tell this kind of story especially resonant for me. 

From Anya's list on fantasy to break your heart.

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