Review: The Poppy War

The Poppy War The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has taken a bit to collect my thoughts about this sprawling grimdark novel. While the story begins as a magical school kind of experience, the novel progressively darkens into an exploration of the grimmest and darkest things humanity has seen during wars in history. While there are many aspects of this book drawn from aspects of classical Chinese culture, literature and history, the horrifying recasting of history's Nanjing Massacre,* as played out in the latter third of Kuang's novel are powerful, poignant and ask the reader to contemplate the great darkness in the human soul. It is difficult to read, but readers need to realize these are real events in China's history.

I am frankly astonished at the scope and skill of this debut. While the pacing and disjuncture points in the three main sections of the novel are a bit rough, this is a debut of incredible prowess. I am looking forward to the second book, in spite of the darkness of the topic.

*As one of my parents was a student of Chinese culture and history, I was, perhaps shockingly, raised with the events of the Japanese massacre in Nanjing in late 1937 well within my awareness. The atrocities that occurred during those weeks are real and likely deeply embedded into the non-Diaspora Chinese consciousness. Their use here is a cautionary tale about what the collective human ethos is capable of in war.

I received a courtesy copy of this book at an event and an electronic copy in addition to a paper ARC of the second novel in the series.

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