burn the revolution down | the poppy war by r.f. kuang

by - 11:58 AM

"Nothing is written. You humans always think you're destined for greatness. Destiny is a myth. Destiny is the only myth. The gods choose nothing."

    isbn: 978-0062662569 | pages: 544 
    publication date: May 1, 2018 | source: own
    genre: adult fantasy
trigger warnings: extreme violence, rape, substance/drug abuse
    A M A Z O N   |   G O O D R E A D S   |   B O O K S H O P

reviving the past and the truths of war
The Poppy War is a highly acclaimed adult fantasy story that richly captures Chinese history and the impact of imperialism. Taking inspiration from the 19th century Opium Wars and the Second Sino-Japanese War, R.F. Kuang presents the absolutely brutal and lasting impact of war on the Empire of Nikara. Rin is war-orphan who passes the national Keju exam and earns a spot at the prestigious military school Sinegard. From the first day, she's exposed to the restrictions and prejudices that come with her social class and has her self-worth and effort constantly ridiculed.

Rin is easily unlikable. The first time I read The Poppy War, I focused solely on my inability to find any motivation to support her story arc, and that ultimately led to me ignorantly skipping over all the important themes that R.F. Kuang incorporates into the novel. The story at its core is about the lasting impact of war and refrains from glorifying something that is inherently horrible. Re-reading this book just one year later opened my eyes to so many components that I had initially missed. There is simply power in the way R.F. Kuang revives the traumas of war on an entire country, the senseless massacre of human life, and the pride in one's culture. 

loyalty to identity and country
As someone who's grown up in Westernized culture, Asian history is almost never discussed in the school curriculum. Upon my first read in 2018, I wasn't able to really grasp the weight of the story and its historical references, but just one year later I can't stop thinking about the importance of going back and truly learning about my own cultural history. As Rin is trained and honed to be a weapon because of her identity, her beliefs are challenged and, for better or for worse, she grows into the start of her full fiery potential.

There's a really fitting quote that goes, "Children ceased to be children when you put a sword in their hands," and it encompasses Rin's loss of innocence in the backdrop of rising political tensions. Her loyalty to the Empire is questioned which is clearly contrasted with the blind devotion she sees the soldiers from the Federation of Mugen possess. In the language of war, every individual becomes a weapon for their country and desperations unveils how cruel humanity can be. I could go forever on how the intricate story-telling and world-building made this novel incredibly impactful, but in the end, The Poppy War captures so many important themes about the cultural trauma of nations and how it's time to truly understand the weight of our past in its power to dictate the future standards of society.

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  1. I started reading The Poppy War but then got sidetracked when Latinx Book Bingo started. I don't think I was really invested in it because I had book bingo on my mind, so I would love to pick it up again.

    1. It definitely took me a while to fully appreciate what RF Kuang was doing, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on it when you get back to it! :)