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:

What I read in August 2019

What I read in August 2019

This was definitely a Graphic Novel month with Near-future politics, Grim-dark fantasy and a hint of Time Travel paradoxes.

  1. Infomocracy (The Centenal Cycle, #1) by Malka Ann Older : This one is very social-political with interesting ideas of a different flavor of democracy. More thoughts here.
  2. One Word Kill (Impossible Times, #1) by Mark Lawrence: Time travel and Dungeons and Dragons, what could go wrong? Crazy, fun, and imaginative. How to time travel without creating a paradox? It’s a trilogy, so I’ll definitely grab the next one.
  3. Saga, Vol. 6 (Saga (Collected Editions) #6) by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  4. Saga, Vol. 7 (Saga (Collected Editions) #7) by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  5. Saga, Vol. 8 (Saga (Collected Editions) #8) by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  6. Saga, Vol. 9 (Saga (Collected Editions) #9) by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples: I finished reading this excellent series!!
  7. The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang: 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.

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What I read in July 2019

What I read in July 2019
  1. Vessel by Lisa A. Nichols: A woman astronaut temporarily lost in space during a mission comes back to Earth 10 years later and weird things happen. It’s loose on sci-fi, NASA makes unlikely decisions and I’m not sure I bought into the reason why the astronaut was having these mysterious experiences.
  2. Saga, Vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Fiona Staples (Artist): I’m hooked! Will read the entire series.
  3. Saga, Vol. 5 by Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Fiona Staples (Artist): Best quote from this one: β€œTogether, my parents had learned to be much more than “the sum of their parts”, whatever that means. Separately, they were kind of just a mess.” I already got Vols. 6 and 7 lined up!
  4. Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries #4) by Martha Wells: The bot that hacked it’s governor module becomes more independent and becomes more human-like, without even wanting to, I’d say. It’s so familiar to know that all that Murderbot wants in life is to watch more media. But at the same time, Murderbot can’t stay away from its ex-owner problems and goes into a complicated rescue mission.
  5. BrainChains: Discover your brain, to unleash its full potential in a hyperconnected, multitasking world by Theo Compernolle: It’s full of scientific research reference and it can get repetitive. It talks a lot about the disadvantages of using e-mail, stress, multitasking, texting while driving and the importance of rest. Good message but I think the book could be shorter.
  6. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari: Made me wonder about tomorrow but question if I really want to be transformed into a stream of data to live forever.

#readinglist #books #reading

What I read in June 2019

What I read in June 2019
  1. Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig: a great audio book! A call to a quieter lifestyle and how to avoid the things that makes us nervous (without even realizing it). More thoughts here.
  2. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay: beautiful writing, epic world building. Maybe a little bit too slow for my taste. More thoughts here.
  3. Goodbye, Things: On Minimalist Living by Fumio Sasaki: A Japanese view on minimalism. Inspiring reasons to adopt a minimalist lifestyle, even if you don’t want to be as extreme as the author.
  4. Saga, Vol. 3 (Saga (Collected Editions) #3) by Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Fiona Staples (Artist): the Saga continues and I am on the wait list for Volume 4 at my library πŸ™‚
  5. Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier: This book gave me a new perspective on gaming and how passionate people dedicate endless hours on creating a game. Fascinating, specially if you play video games.

On my to-read pile for July:

  1. Vessel by Lisa A. Nichols
  2. Infomocracy (Centenal Cycle #1) by Malka Ann Older
  3. Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries #4) by Martha Wells
  4. Conscious by Annaka Harris
  5. Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

#readinglist #books #reading

Tigana: What is a name?

Tigana: What is a name?

Tigana was written by the Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay in 1990. It was the first time I read one of his books. Kay is known for his fantasy fiction that resembles real historic places and even historical events, but transformed into fantasy. It seems like alternate history with fantasy elements in it. Tigana has lots of fantasy elements but I read that Kay’s earlier books gravitate more towards alternate history.

Tigana is a stand alone fantasy novel which is extremely rare these days. It tells the tale of a people that lost their identity since their kingdom was conquered by two powerful tyrant Wizards. It’s a story about lost names and culture and how a group of brave rebels prepared themselves over years to overthrow the tyrants and reclaim their homeland. The two tyrants split the kingdom into two and one of the provinces was put under a spell to basically transform it into another place and make its past forgotten.

It’s a slow burn story that develops leisurely and in an almost dream like state. The writing is poetic, almost to the point where it is too flowery, but then it isn’t. Some chapters are a deep dive into the characters memories and emotions that later helps us understand their motivations and their actions. The characters are not good nor bad. There is ambiguity in their actions. Even the tyrant wizard Brandin is portrayed as a conflicted villain and at times he seems unsure about his decisions. But for me, he is evil.

There is a lot of world building and it almost feels like the world he created could exist on its own and many other tales could be told about it. The newest editions of the book have a foreword in which the author explains his Italian inspiration for the Peninsula of the Palm. The author was inspired by the Italian Renaissance history. The powerful wizard Brandin of Ygrath was inspired by a proud and arrogant Borgia or Medici of the 1500’s.

Best and worst characters:

  • Best character: I loved Catriana, the red head woman who is brave and basically makes the story less boring.
  • Second best character: Devin, the bard/singer.
  • Worst character: Dianora, who lived in the saishan (kind of a harem) with the wizard Brandon. She wanted to defeat him but Stockholm’s Syndrome got her and she just couldn’t do anything against him.

My thoughts

I enjoyed it but it’s not on my “best books of the year list”. I thought the pace was too slow. Until 40% of the book we just get background story and not much action. Not really my cup of tea. But the writing is beautiful. Not sure if I’m going to read another book from this author.

The book

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What I read in May 2019

What I read in May 2019

1) Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3) by Martha Wells

  • Another adventure with the anti-social murder bot. It is full of action inside enclosed spaces and lots of hearing other people’s feeds. An enjoyable read, as always.

2) The Armored Saint (The Sacred Throne, #1) by Myke Cole

  • This was a dark-grim book! Darker than I expected.
    The horror is raw and gory. It’s a harsh world with a religious fanatic Order, tyranny and dominated people. I was expecting lighter moments throughout the story but I would definitely consider it dark fantasy. Not really my cup of tea.

3) Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, Amelia Nagoski

  • I loved the idea of “ending the stress cycle” and learning the differences between the stressors and the stress itself. Exercise (aka moving our bodies) is one of the best ways to discharge and close the stress cycle. With this book I realized how and why exercise is essential to my well-being. I always knew but I’ve never linked it directly to the stress cycle.

4) Saga, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Fiona Staples (Artist)

  • There’s no way you can’t love the characters. It’s just mindbogglingly full of creativity, emotion and authenticity. I read volumes 1 & 2 for a Bookclub meeting, which was awesome! I will continue reading the series for sure.

6) OneNote: OneNote User Guide to Getting Things Done: Setup OneNote for GTD in 5 Easy Steps by Jack Echo

  • This one helped me review some of he keys points on how to use Onenote. I’ve been using Evernote for more than 10 years now and I decided to move to Onenote. I like the flexibility, the “white canvas” space that Onenote offers. I learned some useful keyboard shortcuts and hidden option with this book.

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