My thoughts on “The Poppy War”

My thoughts on “The Poppy War”

“The Poppy War” by R.F. Kuang is a grim dark fantasy with war as a background. But the beginning of the book almost feels like a YA-Harry-Potter type of story. Until it isn’t. It’s definitely not young adult, although we follow a young war-orphan peasant joining a military school and going through all the discoveries and pains of growing up.

Rin, the main character, is goal driven and works hard to achieve what she wants: basically pass the hardest test of the Empire to join a prestigious military academy: Sinegard. She is smart. She is tough. She is focused. She is a quick learner. She becomes one of the few students to follow the path of Lore: an ancient skill that enables a connection with the Gods’ powers. And she is thrown into a merciless ongoing war between two Federations (Nikan and Mugen).

The writing is awesome and there are excellent dialogues between the students and the teachers about war strategy, logic and philosophy. There are references to Buddhism, Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, meditation, shamans, martial arts. Also, the ugly brutality of war is there. War is not romanticized at all. There are gory descriptions of the aftermath of war. The decisions the characters have to make are not easy, there is no right or wrong, only what needs to be done to cause the less amount of damage.

The war described in the book was strongly influenced by the Second Sino-Japanese War during the Republican era (when Japan invaded China in the 1930s) and specifically the Nanjing Massacre (also known as the Rape of Nanking). It’s ugly. There is no better way of saying it. The third part of the book contains disturbing scenes that work as a reality check into humanity’s war history.

There is a passage when Rin tries to understand War:

β€œA rational explanation eluded her. Because the answer could not be rational. It was not founded in military strategy. It was not because of a shortage of food rations, or because of the risk of insurgency or backlash. It was, simply, what happened when one race decided the other was insignificant.” ― R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War

The magic being derived from the power of the Pantheon of Gods was an interesting take on fantasy magic systems. It’s hard, drug ingestion is involved in the process and the shaman can’t always control it. It’s like a raw force that is channeled. It seems like all shamans go insane one way or the other.

It’s an excellent dark fantasy-military historical read that defies what is fantasy and what is a hero. Rin is a fleshed out strong character with her flaws, fears and strengths. The narrative is not worried about our pre-established notions of what is a hero. The world building is fascinating. Reality is tough and there are not shortcuts to solve complex problems. Only hard work and difficult choices.

β€œWar doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains.”
― R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War


Book info:

Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older and democracy flavors

Infomocracy (The Centenal Cycle, #1)Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one is very social-political with interesting ideas of a different flavor of democracy.

In a near future there are no countries as we have today, but rather groups of 100,000 people that make up a “centenal”. So while walking around you can cross various “centenals” on you path. Each “centenal” has its own political party. The political parties are like global governments, they can rule various centenals at the same time. Every 10 years there is a global election in which citizens choose their centenals governments. The most voted government becomes “The Supermajority”, but I could not understand exactly what is its power or its role in the global decision making process. It seemed a super important position to fight for, tho (maybe I have to read the next book in the series to find out).

Also, there’s “Information”, a large nonprofit organization that controls and vets what information people can access on their handhelds. I couldn’t help but think of Google. What if Google became a non-profit that everybody accepts as the only source of news, navigation maps, encyclopedia, social communication tools? That’s what’s going on here.

So there is espionage, political campaigns, activism and information censorship. Discussions about the elections process, democracy, monopolies, immigration, disinformation control, minorities representation, war, technology.

There is commentary about the Internet and how it transforms into an essential part of everybody’s life. How it is a tool to keep the system running and how it could be used to manipulate and control. Something that is actually disturbingly close to our present situation.

It’s a huge thought experiment on democracy and representation. We follow various characters, each one working for a different political government, or for Information, or just rebels that want to break down the system.

I thought the book was not so action-packed as I would like, but the thought-provoking ideas were worth the read!

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The end of Saga: Vol 09 (for now…)

The end of Saga: Vol 09 (for now…) Saga, Vol. 9 (Saga, #9)Saga, Vol. 9 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Apparently this is the last volume before the authors go on a hiatus. It’s heartbreaking because it doesn’t end anywhere near a happy note. The whole series I’ve known that the world of Saga is cruel and violent. I got the message. After seeing the main characters survive the most horrible situations I was not prepared for this ending. I don’t want to believe. And that’s how good this series is. I care about every character. Even the bad ones. Ok, not all the bad ones.
Hopefully we will see the continuation of the story soon!

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