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:

โ€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.โ€ โ€• 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.

โ€œWar doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains.โ€
โ€• 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.

#readinglist #books #reading

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: โ€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.โ€ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚
  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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My notes on “Notes on a Nervous Planet”

My notes on “Notes on a Nervous Planet”

I really enjoyed this book by Matt Haig. It’s part memoir, part essay, part blog post.

First of all, the author does a great job at narrating it. It felt like I was having a conversation as I nodded and sighed at various passages.
His personal stories add a lot of depth to the discussion: how can we be sane in a world that bombards us with information.

It’s a call to quieter lifestyle and makes us think about our standard behaviors. And it’s all in the little things: watch the stars, observe the clouds, listen to the birds, read a book, appreciate music, have a conversation in person without looking at your phone.
Beautiful writing!

I loved a chapter where he talks about books and reading:

โ€œReading isnโ€™t important because it helps to get you a job. Itโ€™s important because it gives you room to exist beyond the reality youโ€™re given. It is how humans merge. How minds connect. Dreams. Empathy. Understanding. Escape. Reading is love in action.โ€
โ€• Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet

And there is a look of talk about self image which is particularly relevant in today’s Instagram’s selfies:

โ€œRemember no one really cares what you look like. They care what they look like. You are the only person in the world to have worried about your face.โ€
โ€• Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet

It was a refreshing read (or should I say “listen”?). It’s about living. And being happy. And embracing what is important. Letting go of the burden.

The book:
Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
Published January 29th 2019 by Penguin Books (first published July 5th 2018

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