When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
What I Thought
I had such high hopes for THE POPPY WAR, the first in a trilogy from R. F. Kuang, especially given how much coverage this novel was receiving across social media.
Sadly, for me at least, it didn’t live up to the over inflated hype and praise that has been heaped upon it. And that it was nominated for so many prizes makes me think that I read a completely different book to everyone else.
Well, not quite everyone else. There are others, like me, who did not connected with the spoilt, self-opinionated Rin who miraculously ‘aces‘ a prestigious exam that few ever pass, and then, gets—once again—miraculously accepted into the most prestigious elite academy.
Are you as bored with me receptively writing the words ‘prestigious‘ and ‘miraculously‘? Because that’s how bored I was with this characters unbelievable, non-substantiated abilities to ‘swot’ at least five years worth of hard work into a few pages with the help of a rickety old tutor banished to the outer provinces, AKA Karate Kid-style. There is no background … none what so ever. And then?
There’s the ‘self-harm’ that permeates all the way through. Really? I mean, REALLY?
And don’t get me started on the second-hand world-building—we’ve read so much better elsewhere. Or the flimsy characters who flit through the pages with not so much as a pages width of depth to any of them.
Oh, and the absolute best part, is when this 16 year-old basically ‘nukes‘ her inconvenient womb (and Ladies, wouldn’t we all love to swallow some magic potion that allows us to do the same with nothing more that a stomach ache and a few sweats, all in two pages worth of text) thereby emasculating herself.
Gosh! How wonderful and what an utterly inane example of how to be a ‘hero’ a woman must what, become less a woman and more like a man? What a weird choice for a female author to choose for her female protagonist.
And finally, the level and graphic nature of the violence depicted. Yes, war is brutal. Yes, war and the lead up to war is devastating. But in the hands of this author? It’s used as a degrading tool all about the ‘shock’ value. Ripping babies from wombs is not something you take your time describing. Characterisation and world-building are.
In conclusion, someone online described this book as GrimDark. I have no idea what ‘grimdark’ is, but if this is an example, then it’s not a sub-genre I want to read ever again.
THE POPPY WAR (Book #1)
R. F. Kuang
Harper Voyager, 2019