The Poppy Wars by R F Kuang- Book review

Time to #beatthebacklog and this time it’s the epic fantasy The Poppy Wars by R F Kuang. Here is my review

When Rin aced the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south .Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second and a Third Poppy War is just a spark away. Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity and that it may already be too late. 


The Poppy Wars by R. F Kuang has been on my kindle for a while now and I have to admit the size of the book was a little daunting. But it was finally time to tackle this through the beat the backlog challenge.

The book is told from the point of view of Fang Runin ( Rin) in the third person but as with all epic fantasy, there is a huge range of characters. Rin is a war orphan unaware of her origins who tries to escape an arranged marriage but takes an exam to get into an elite military academy because it’s free and gets in.

The half third of the book felt a little like a Harry Potter with a hard edge as Rin and her classmates try to get the first year. We have Kitay, the bookish best friend, Nezha the oh so gorgeous mean boy and rival, Venka the feisty friend and Altan, the cool and talented outsider. There is also a range of teachers of whom Jiang the eccentric and mysterious Shaman is the most interesting. But with the onset of war, in the second part, the tone changes and the book becomes dark and not for those who enjoy cosy fantasy.

The plot races along and there is enough action and magic to keep most fantasy fans happy as well. There is plenty of intrigue and while I didn’t find the reveals particularly shocking, I did find I couldn’t put the book down as I needed to find out what happens next.

The world-building is detailed and descriptive and I loved the Eastern-inspired world which makes a change from the usual medieval European setting.

There is a lot of gory, violence in this book both physical and sexual which I found a little unsettling but when I had a little read about the book including other reviews, I found the book is possibly based on some aspects of Chinese history which were tragic as described in this book. As I write this review, there are reports from the war in Ukraine of similar violent atrocities being committed and you could see how Rin can justify using her power as she does.

I wasn’t a big fan of the angst but Rin is a teenager so I imagine angst would be part of the story, but it was distracting-her feelings for Altan were disturbing. Her changing relationship with Nezha was predictable.

Perfect for Fans of

Grimdark fantasy like Game of Thrones or anyone who would like to read epic fantasy in a non-European setting.

Content Warning

Rape, drug addiction, physical abuse, sexual assault, forced medical experimentation, racism ( negative references to Rin and Altan being darker in skin tones).

Genre: Fantsay

Series: Book one in The Poppy wars

Source: My own

6 thoughts on “The Poppy Wars by R F Kuang- Book review

  1. Great review! I love that you mentioned that the violence/gore was based on history even if it wasn’t to your taste. When I googled it, it looked like it was based on the Second Sino-Japanese War. I think RF Kuang has even recommended nonfiction books for people who’re interested in learning more!
    Also, it definitely was similar to Harry Potter/other school fantasy novels in the beginning. The tone shift was such a unique piece of this fantasy novel. I’m not sure any other author would have the courage to flip the switch like that because it’s definitely not for every reader.

    Liked by 1 person

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