Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Alexis: Read 11/22/18

Yesterday, I finished The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang.

I loved the first half. It reminded me of a mix between The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and Avatar: the Last Airbender. On her website, R.F. Kuang even mentions that ATLA and Game of Thrones were some of her inspirations.

This brutal book deals with every heavy theme you can think of: genocide, addiction, experimentation, rape, death. Despite being a high-fantasy book, I found many aspects of the war in the latter half of the book to be extremely realistic.

This is because Kuang is a genius. She graduated from Georgetown and is now studying at Cambridge. She’s studying Chinese studies, and you can tell. I was amazed at her worldbuilding. Kuang knows everything about the world she’s created. The book describes the hierarchy, the history, the mythology, you name it. She talks about it. She describes it in detail. She fully understands the world she’s created, and I admired that from the very start of the book. I love the way she based the world off of Chinese history. This includes fascinating aspects like martial arts and mythology. But it also includes the dark side of history. And I love a good dark book.

I generally like the main character, Rin. She is established out-right: we know what she wants and how she’s going to get it. We know her motivation. But Jiang is my favorite character. His personality is the most well-defined, and I love all of his quirks. I love a good quirky, underestimated character. To be honest, I didn’t really care about any of the other secondary characters, though Altan annoyed me in the second half of the book.

Something is lacking in the second half. Even though the plot is still well-defined, too many new elements are thrown together too fast. A whole new crew of characters are introduced. Characters from the first half come in and out. And some huge decisions are made. It isn’t rushed; it takes place over a couple hundred pages. Yet for some reason, it feels jumbled. To be fair, the entire second half is war. War is a mess; war is a jumble. This Poppy War is brutal and messy and isn’t for the fair-hearted reader. But the way Rin acts in the second half almost turned me off from her (I mean that was kind of the point, but still). Her actions and way of thinking are justified in the world, but that doesn’t mean I like the direction her character is going. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I loved the messy history and the mythology of the world. I will definitely read the rest of the series in the future, but it just wasn’t a 5 star read for me.

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books

 

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