The Poppy War Review in 5 Minutes or Less

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As The Dragon Republic, set to one of the best fantasy book of 2019 and the second in R.F Kuang’s series, heads for the shelves, I bring you a review of her debut book, The Poppy War. There will be no spoilers. No deep dives in character motivations or plot devices. If you are looking for a quick Poppy War review that helps you figure out if this is a novel you want to explore, then read on.

The Poppy War: What Is It?

The Poppy War is a grimdark fantasy novel inspired by the ancient Chinese culture, although it has roots in religion and mythology based around practices of Shamanism, which introduces an interesting secondary dynamic. There is also a heavy emphasis on drug addiction and the use of psychedelics to enhance state of mind, and access new and untapped regions of reality. Overall, there are a variety of themes that create quite a unique narrative.  

Readers follow the ambitious young Rin, as she navigates the harsh and often twisted world around her, attempting to leave her unfortunate past behind and craft a new destiny. It may sound cliche, but when combined with those elements of Chinese culture, Shamanism and hallucinogens, what could have been a trope-ridden freefall turns into a diverse and compelling story.

What Kind of Book is The Poppy War?

The Poppy War is a grimdark fantasy in every sense of the word. It features very dark elements that make it engaging for fans of the genre, but that grimness may also be a detracting factor for those who prefer a more lighthearted affair, or stories of noble knights. Let’s just say, there is no honour in this book. Not amongst the characters, nor for them either.

While it could be described as an epic fantasy, I would do so in the loosest of terms. Most of this story is driven by small moments and character development. There are what you might call a few larger scale set-pieces, but for the most part this is a very self-contained story. If you like a quick and past-faced narrative with an intense focus on a linear plot, it’s perfect. If you like fantasy that is expansive, constantly taking tangents and developing a world, then it’s maybe not going to satisfy you.

The Poppy War takes you from A to B, whereas your larger scale epics like A Song of Ice and Fire will take you through every letter of the alphabet.

The Poppy War Review: Is It Good?

The Poppy War is spectacular. It’s beautiful and rewarding in its design, yet also upsetting, unsettling and desperately tragic. As far as engaging and immersive fantasy goes, this book is up there with some of the best. You won’t get lost in the grandeur of it all, but you will become wrapped up in the very personal story that is being told.

What Is Not to Love About The Poppy War?

As with most character-driven books, the start of The Poppy War is a bit of slowburn. In order to feel what you need to feel, you need time to get involved in the life of Rin, which is a little on the dry side to begin with. Soldier on, as she does, however, and you’ll find you come out the other end with an experience quite unlike any other fantasy.

Should I Read The Poppy War?

I can’t recommend The Poppy War enough, as I have to many people already. But what I will say is, I understand it isn’t for everyone, and that is just down to the nature of the book and the subject matters covered.

DO READ IF:

  • You love grimdark fantasy

  • You like a quick and fast-paced narrative

  • You like to follow an individual through their journey

  • You want to be shocked and disturbed

DON’T READ IF:

  • You dislike grim stories

  • You really look for epic world building in your fantasy


The Poppy War isn’t the only example of grimdark fantasy out there. Why not discover the dark world of Azra through the fantasy ebook available right here on The Azrian Portal? Featuring character-driven tales, grimdark themes, epic quests and fearsome monsters, there are fantasy short stories in The Azrian Anthology for everyone.