The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang is the first book in the trilogy as well as marking this her debut book. As usual, I needed to find inspiration for my next read and I turned to the New York Times bestseller list. Now, I’ve been burned before by taking their suggestions but if anything, humans are creatures of habit. We just can’t help it sometimes. I’ll start by saying that The Poppy War seem to be borderline on being a YA novel. The two saving graces for my personally is that it did away with the romance stuff along with the story trending towards the darker side of fantasy. I haven’t read a fantasy novel in some time so picking up The Poppy War made a lot of sense. It’s popular enough to have made it to the bestseller’s list as well as having a darker theme. However, I still came out disappointed in the end because I just expected so much more.
We follow Rin from being a ragtag girl with nothing to live for to seeing her being a powerful shaman acting as a conduit for a God. We journey with her through her trials and tribulations while in training school and as a soldier. We get to witness her shame at always being the odd person out due to her status and skin color all to way to her making all kinds of personal sacrifices in order to succeed no matter the cost. There were a lot of difficult choices that the main character had to make and we as the readers feel for her. Being thrown in those tough situations and having the mental capacity to plow through no matter the cost is remarkable.
There were some memorable characters in this story but just not enough to make me want to continue with the series. The story itself had some moments but again, it just felt very average at best. I wished there were more original ideas from the author to incorporate into the story. In fact, I would have personally loved some political machinations thrown in to the mix. Maybe even a different POV. I certainly thought that there were potential in that area due to how war is at play here along with military strategies and important family figureheads being able to influence the important decisions being made. Its missed opportunities like these that personally sway my decision on what separates a normal and average story from the truly great ones. I definitely would love to see the author capitalizing on this in her future novels and series.
As it stands, The Poppy War is a very average of the road fantasy story. While I’ve enjoyed the darker theme at play here, the overall story just couldn’t force me enough to continue with the series. As Rin matures and understands the full weight of the consequences of her decisions, I’m positive that the story will mature as well. I congratulate the author nonetheless on her debut novel and it being on the bestseller no less!
FYI: For those like me who wanted something more but were left a bit disappointed, I highly recommend reading the Mistborn series from Brandon Sanderson. It has a fairly dark theme like The Poppy War, a fun and imaginative combat system, excellent characters and has political intrigue as well.