Review: The Poppy War

Series: The Poppy War: #1

War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains.

That… is quite a book.

Plotwise, for the first third or so, it’s a very solid ‘poor girl works very hard and gets into a prestigious (military) school’. Once there, she’s outcast and has to fight (literally) for her place. On top of that, she bumps into the mysterious ‘Lore’ master who everyone thinks is nuts–but just might know a bit about the magic no one believes in any more. It’s a lot like the school sections of The Name of the Wind, which were the parts of that book I particularly liked–and works as both coming of age and magic school.

And then things get dark. Minor spoilers, but the second third of the books is entirely concerned with war and invasion and the final third gets darker yet with death, destruction, and genocide(s) . If you’re not ready for some truly gruesome scenes, do not read this book. They’re well written and really underscore the entire story and feel of the world, but that doesn’t make them any easier to read.

Worldbuildingwise, it’s based on Chinese culture and history with a wide variety of martial arts and shamanistic magic blended in. It deals heavily with the Second Sino-Japanese War, which should tell you a bit about how dark things get mixed with some ideas and history of the Opium Wars. Drugs in general come up quite a lot, both in their purely addictive state and with the idea that ‘just enough’ might just grant great (and terrible) powers.

Overall, well worth the read (with the caveats above) and I’m curious where in the world it possibly going to go after that. It’s not often the first book of a trilogy ends with quite *that* much death and destruction .

“They were monsters!" Rin shrieked. “They were not human!”

“Have you ever considered” he said slowly “that that was exactly what they though of us?”

Side note: The scene where Rin gets her first menstrual cycle and immediately decides to chemically remove her womb is... kind of strange. It feels very military, but it's only barely touched on the entire rest of the books. One comment about repopulating her race and a few weird looks and ... that's it? .