The title speaks for itself. Here we go!
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
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.
Oh gosh, this was so DARK! It started out as your standard ‘PoV scratches & claws to get accepted into elite school. Meets bullies, struggles, but in the end succeeds’. This is a trope I absolutely LOVE and I don’t mind reading more versions of it. It’s hard to not get me invested, when you throw a school setting at me. This was also the case here. I loved Rin! She does have shades of Mary Sue, but misses the self pity that usually comes with it. She is strong-willed and determined, but has to work hard to get where she wants to be. Being able to access her schaman powers is not easy and I enjoyed the fact that using magic has a massive price. You don’t just flip your finger, you have to make sacrifices and be strong enough to not let it consume you.
This book takes a turn in the middle, when an actual war starts and the author doesn’t sugarcoat anything. It’s described as gruesome and brutal and not glorified at all. Rin is shocked and admits that she’s scared to death and didn’t expect it to be that horrific. She admits to not being ready for it and I felt even more for her because of it.
I could have done without some of the really graphic descriptions of raped infants and the like. I got that it’s freaking awful, I didn’t need those specific pictures in my head.
The book actually is a bit too dark and desperate for me in the end. Especially what Rin has to do, woah!
I was glued to the pages until the end though and felt for all the characters, even the minor ones! Some of them may surprise you, as they start out as typical bullies but turn into more defined characters later on. I liked that even main characters can die and that its not pretty.
It does have a kind of conclusion, even though questions are left unanswered. I will continue as I liked the sound of book 2.
Also, for anyone who is wondering. This is NOT YA.
Black Wolves by Kate Elliott
An exiled captain returns to help the son of the king who died under his protection in this rich and multi-layered first book in an action-packed new series.
Uh, I decided to not copy the blurb cause it gives away a lot. I didn’t know that this story would jump several years after 20-25% (which is a lot for a novel of around 800 pages). And I wasn’t happy about it at first. We meet up with young Kellas, who just got accepted into the ‘Black Wolves’ and I fell in love with him immediately. It was really easy to read and the world was introduced as pretty big & interesting.
But then suddenly we jump over 40 years into the future! Kellas is now super old and in hiding and we only slowly piece together what happened during the last years.
There were tons of new characters, several new pov perspectives and this read like a giant Downton Abbey. It was too long & too slow. I was struggling with the book in the middle. The characters got more interesting, but it took a while to warm up to them. I guess it was worth it? But nevertheless I was bored during the introduction.
The world-building is pretty good though. It’s a story that follows several characters in a changing world, in which everyone is trying to claim power for themselves. Literally everyone is ready to stab you in the back. Throw in some religious nutters and a royal family that’s super dysfunctional and here you have it.
You don’t know who’s actually the good or bad guy and the perception changes often.
There’s also some cool people who bond giant eagles and fly with them. And weird rituals like dripping your menstrual blood over a candle? Women’s magic. That’s what we do 😉
It’s kinda what I love reading about. I mean not the women’s magic^^ Tons of characters who are all grey-ish, a vast world with different kinds of magic and murder eagles.
It was just SO long. And I have to admit I forgot the names of half of the characters. That’s what happens if you only write a review half a year later. I will try to be better!
There’s some rape scenes in it, so be warned.
3.5/5 stars. I will consider the sequel once it’s published.