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.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
The Poppy War has been on my radar for a long time. I’ve heard mixed things about it—some people loved it, others didn’t care for it. I can understand both perspectives, but I really liked this book.
Despite the main character being a teenager, I’d caution against calling this a YA fantasy. It’s brutal, it’s dark, and there are some themes and language some readers may find offensive. It also did not have the typical YA feel to the writing.
Rin was discounted from the onset of the story. She wasn’t supposed to be smart enough to gain entrance to Sinegard’s academy. She was looked down upon throughout her tenure there because she was a commoner—and from the south, no less. Afterward, she was often dismissed and discredited by her commander (who has his own demons to grapple with.) It was a classic underdog story, and I’ve always loved those.
The shamans featured were an interesting group. Each had unique powers granted by a deity they’d learned to channel, but because of their connection to the gods, they were shunned by the larger society. But to the Empress, they’re useful tools for the war. It set up a dynamic that was both fascinating and horrifying at times, but one I continually wanted to know more about.
As I mentioned above, this book is brutal and dark. Not so much from the onset, but for the entire second half things get worse and worse for the Nikara people. And just when I thought it couldn’t become any more grim, more things happen that Rin must contend with. This is not a happy book, and it doesn’t have a happy ending.
It does conclude one main storyline, but sets the stage for the next book in the series. Rin’s tale isn’t finished yet.
Lashaan Balasingam says
I remember when I got through this one myself. Quite the adventure and definitely one that was brutal and grim! I’m glad to read how much you enjoyed it nonetheless. By the way, I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to mention how cool it is! Keep on creating! 😀