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The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang Book Review

An Audiobook review of The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang


Content Warning: This book deals with heavy topics. If you’re sensitive to any of the things on this list: maybe consider picking a different book because they are prevalent. But, if you’re able to stomach these things I believe you are in for a rewarding experience.

Spoiler Free Review:
This was the first audiobook I have ever started, my fear was always that an audiobook would fail to keep my attention the same way that I was forced to with a physical copy of a book. I was intimidated by the 19 hour runtime but with a plan to listen to at least an hour every day I could complete the novel before it was due back at the library in two weeks. I finished it in 2 days. I loved the book, this is still the only audiobook I’ve consumed so I could just love audiobooks but even if that’s the case here this book definitely deserves to hold a place in my memory forever. I loved the main character, she felt like a real person forced to make real decisions and compromises. I loved the story, there are three distinct parts with vastly different tones and each one landed for me while still being believable within the same world. Worldbuilding was phenomenal, I don’t want to live in this world but I can easily believe that the characters do. All the characters were good actually, my least favourite one(s) are only relevant for maybe a dozen pages. I have exactly two complaints: The pacing was great, it held my attention from start to finish, so well that I had to force myself to take breaks. Now I do have a couple of minor complaints: this could be because I listened to an audiobook version but I found the descriptions lacking. My thoughts during this were that the descriptions were included to serve as world building rather than to create a mental image for the reader. If that’s something that you like then you might not consider this book perfect. Also some of the story elements were a bit cliche and predictable but it kind of fits with the story since the main perspective is from a character who is naive compared to some of the other characters. Is this the best book I’ve ever read? No. Which have been better? I can’t think of any. I would recommend this novel to you if you liked Mistborn and LOVED Saving Private Ryan. I would NOT recommend this novel to you if The Hunger Games was too dark for you or if you hate well-thought out magic systems.


Spoiler Review: Hunger Games with more graphic war crimes. All the characters were complex and real (except for Rin’s parents who just felt like the Dursleys from Harry Potter). The pacing was excellent, it felt like three novels of content expertly condensed into one. I haven’t consumed a lot of media that has been able to successfully shift tone in the same way that this novel did. The first arc in the boarding school was light and fun and only hinted at the terrible state of the rest of the world. Then the drastic change where she is a naive teen soldier in a losing war against the most ruthless enemy. When she described the details of the massacred city (I believe this was based on the Nanjing Massacre), I was on board with her getting revenge at any cost. The internal conflict is easy to empathize with. This leads into part 3 where she goes from being forced to endure atrocities to being forced to decide which atrocities to continue. I’m amazed at the cohesion of the 3 parts and the speed that we transition through it. Her goal in part 1 is to get good grades and impress her teachers. Her goal in part 2 is to rescue her friends and survive. Her goal in part 3 is to drop the nukes. It seems like it would be impossible to fit this much change into one novel but the Author pulls it off. In a short span of time she goes from being a child to a General, and even though she has a lot of potential, the book makes it clear that she is being rushed. Which leads us to the ending. Obviously she shouldn’t decimate an entire country, but she really believes that she is doing it to stop more suffering. She is forced to make an impossible decision and meanwhile she’s being manipulated by like 4 different people, one of which is the God of rage. The ending dialogues explain it well, Kitay saying that reducing your enemy to a heartless monster is exactly what the enemy has done and Rin arguing that you can’t understand her decision without seeing the things that she had. They are both right, which makes the conflict so complicated (and interesting). I am excited, but nervous, to see how things escalate in the sequel.

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