Published: May 1, 2018
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Series: Untitled #1
Pages: 544 (Hardcover)
My Rating: 5.0/5.0
When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that 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.
First of all, thank you to all my fellow bloggers whose reviews made me immediately pick up the audio version of this book. Without your enthusiasm I would have missed out on one of the best books released this year and that would have just been a shame. Secondly, if you haven’t read The Poppy War or even heard of it until now, you should definitely remedy that ASAP.
The Poppy War begins as a coming of age tale, but soon morphs into something far deeper and darker than that. Rin is a war orphan from Rooster province in southern Nikan whose only choices are between marriage to an old man or getting into the elite academy of Sinegard. Well this wouldn’t be much of a story if she failed the Keju test and had to get married… she gets into Sinegard and life is hard because she’s darker skinned, of a lower class, and lacks the tutelage most of her classmates had their entire lives. She does make a few closer acquaintances and one close friend during her years at Sinegard, which to be honest was kind of a relief. Rin also discovers her propensity for the supposedly non-existent mythical art of shamanism. She can call upon the Phoenix goddess and rain her destructive fires down upon the world, which is handy since the Third Poppy War is upon their doorstep.
Throughout the first half of the book, tensions between Nikan and Mugen slowly escalate. War is obviously coming, it’s just a matter of when. Being at a military academy means Rin will definitely participate in the coming war, but she’s unsure in what capacity until she sets a decent portion of a city on fire and kills a Mugenese general quite spectacularly. She’s put where her powers will be most beneficial and this often means she’s near the front lines. The latter portions of this book are absolutely BRUTAL. The Mugenese are sadistic invaders, killing not only the men, but the women and the children too and usually in the most horrific manner imaginable. The Poppy War was a savage story and the slaughters committed by Mugen weren’t just gratuitous. It helped illustrate how bad these people actually are and how those living in Nikan must have suffered during the first two Poppy Wars.
The Poppy War is definitely going to be one my favorite books of the year and I can’t wait to read the sequel(s)! I think this would be a great book for fans of darker fantasy and for those who like a school setting/coming of age story. This was a book that hit all the right notes, from outstanding characters who I was COMPLETELY attached to, to the rich worldbuilding. I can’t wait to see how future books in the series play out!!!