The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

  • My rating: 4.5/5 Stars35068705
  • TW: rape, gore, war, drug addiction/abuse, genocide, racism
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  • Genre: fantasy

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.

So I’m a little late on this one, and this book already has an abundance of great reviews, but here I am giving it a late, great review. The Poppy War was a contender for best fantasy novel on the Goodreads 2018 choice awards, and one of my all-time favorite (and hard to please) reviewers, Kahn the Grinch on Goodreads, gave this one 5 stars, so I figured it was definitely worth the read. I wasn’t disappointed!

The beginning of this book was fantastic because I’m a sucker for school settings. The book starts with Rin, our main character, studying her ass off to be accepted into Sinegard, a top university in the country of Nikan. Sinegard is a military training school for the sons and daughters of powerful and rich men, of which Rin is very much not.  I did get somewhat of a Hogwarts vibe at first, but Kuang quickly shattered this with intensity and brutality far beyond that of Draco Malfoy. And unlike Harry, Rin wasn’t chosen; she wasn’t set apart by her birth–in fact, the very opposite. She actually had to work for what she wanted, which was a lot more satisfying than it being handed to her in the form of a lightning-shaped scar. Her drive and motivation set her up as an admirable and fiercely determined character.

The character development continues long after the school setting has been ripped away, and Rin and her classmates are forced to face the brutalities of war. We see depth of character and relationships being developed and shaped by the world and through shared experiences. We see characters who once seemed shallow and immature grow into real human beings with emotions and drive. I loved almost every single character in this book because there was no good or evil, just shades of gray and conflicting inner turmoil. The interactions between them were organic and enjoyable to read. There was an emphasis on loyalty and trust rather than insta-love. The characters range from quirky to cruel and everything in between.

Another fantastic aspect of this book was the world-building. It was interesting to see how Kuang used Asian influences to set up what could have been an alternate China. There were a complexity of politics, culture, and inner workings that were slowly built up until I was completely immersed in the world. The magic system, more aptly named shamanism, was deeply intertwined with the cultural aspect of the novel and was based on psychological and spiritual depth. I got some heavy Kung Fu Panda vibes with the smallest amount of Doctor Strange mixed in. I really enjoyed how Kuang used the essence of martial arts, meditation and balance, as a source of power. It was incredibly unique and made the book unpredictable because it’s something that fantasy (at least fantasy that I’ve read) hasn’t really explored.

As I mentioned in the trigger warning at the beginning of the post, Kuang does not shy away from the brutality of war. It is gory and awful, and definitely not for the faint of heart. The aftermath is described in especially sanguine detail. While this aspect of the novel wasn’t enjoyable, it certainly added verisimilitude and a sense of purpose to the plot and the character’s motivations.

I knocked the rating down to 4.5 stars because I thought the pacing was a bit slow. From the description, it sounds like most of the book would be about Rin at Sinegard. While this was a significant portion of the story, it wasn’t as much as I would have liked it to be. The rest of the novel gets a bit repetitive when it comes to the war. I can fully appreciate how Kuang laid out strategy and dove into principles of war, but personally I didn’t enjoy this as much as character interactions or the development of shamanism.

Thanks for reading my review! I’d highly recommend this to any fantasy lover looking for something a bit unique. It’s refreshing to see Asian influences rather than European ones, so the book really stood out to me.

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The Wicked King by Holly Black


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You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.

Read below for my spoiler-free review.

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Rule by Ellen Goodlett

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The king is dying, his heir has just been murdered, and rebellion brews in the east. But the kingdom of Kolonya and the outer Reaches has one last option before it descends into leaderless chaos.

Or rather, three unexpected options.

Zofi has spent her entire life trekking through the outer Reaches with her band of Travelers. She would do anything to protect the band, her family. But no one can ever find out how far she’s already gone.

Akeylah was raised in the Eastern Reach, surrounded by whispers of rebellion and abused by her father. Desperate to escape, she makes a decision that threatens the whole kingdom.

Ren grew up in Kolonya, serving as a lady’s maid and scheming her way out of the servants’ chambers. But one such plot could get her hung for treason if anyone ever discovers what she’s done.

When the king summons the girls, they arrive expecting arrest or even execution. Instead they learn the truth: they are his illegitimate daughters, and one must become his new heir. But someone in Kolonya knows their secrets, and that someone will stop at nothing to keep the sisters from their destiny… to rule.

Magic, mystery, and blackmail abound in this sensational and striking fantasy debut.

Read below for my spoiler-free review. (Thanks to Netgalley for sending me this ARC. This is an honest review and all opinions are my own) Continue reading

The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

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  • My rating: 3/5 stars
  • Published by Central Avenue Publishing
  • 289 Pages
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Most people have no idea goblins live in the woods around the small town of Bellwater, Washington. But some are about to find out. Skye, a young barista and artist, falls victim to a goblin curse in the forest one winter night, rendering her depressed and silenced, unable to speak of what happened. Her older sister, Livy, is at wit’s end trying to understand what’s wrong with her. Local mechanic Kit would know, but he doesn’t talk of such things: he’s the human liaison for the goblin tribe, a job he keeps secret and never wanted, thrust on him by an ancient family contract.Then Kit starts dating Livy, and Skye draws Kit’s cousin Grady into the spell through an enchanted kiss in the woods. Skye and Grady are doomed to become goblins and disappear from humankind forever, unless Livy, the only one untainted by enchantment, can unravel the spell by walking a dangerous magical path of her own.

I have always loved stories about the fae that dwell just beyond the human world–this can include goblins, elves, fairies, and countless other creatures. Some of my favorites in this genre include An Enchantment of Ravens and The Treachery of Beautiful Things. I thought I’d give this one try, and it was about what I expected. Nothing amazing, but entertaining nonetheless.

If you’re looking for a story with depth, originality, and elegance, then this is not the book for you. I gave it three stars because it is average: nothing more, nothing less. The characters, while bland, aren’t annoying. The book is short enough that even the slow parts weren’t too boring, and the action was just intense enough to keep me reading. It’s a short, simple read with basic prose and very little stylistic voice. I would say that it is targeted towards younger readers, but it is a bit mature in terms of sex–there is no explicit detail, however, I wouldn’t recommend it for a pre-YA audience.

Overall, the book was simple with just enough intrigue to make me want to read it. It’s not a great novel by any standards, but it’s something I would pick up for a short read on a rainy afternoon. It’s super cheesy, but that’s what makes books like these fun to read sometimes. (Key word: sometimes. Normally I wouldn’t tolerate a book like this but I haven’t read something so unambitious in a long while).

(P.S. Sorry for posting twice in one day! I wanted to get my review up on Netgalley ASAP. Disclaimer: I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Granted, it came out a year ago…but at the time I downloaded it, it was an ARC. lol it took me a while to get around to it)

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Furyborn by Claire Legrand

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  • My rating: 2.5/5 stars 😦
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  • Published by Sourcebooks Fire
  • 512 freaking pages

Description: When assassins ambush her best friend, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing herself as one of a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light, and a queen of blood. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven elemental magic trials. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

One thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a fairy tale to Eliana Ferracora. A bounty hunter for the Undying Empire, Eliana believes herself untouchable―until her mother vanishes. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain and discovers that the evil at the empire’s heart is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world―and of each other.

My spoiler-free review is below.

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Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.

Read my spoiler-free review below.

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Kingdom of Ash Cover Reveal/Reaction

Well…we’re almost there folks! It’s only a couple more months until Kingdom of Ash comes out, and Aelin’s adventure will come to an end. A couple days ago the lovely Mrs. Maas revealed the cover of the final novel! I think it’s really beautiful, although I have always been more drawn to the UK editions. All in all, I think it’s a spectacular way to end the series, all of which have lovely covers. The armor is intricate, and the brightness of the background gives me a little hope as to how the series will end. I’m hoping it means that it goes well… Also, I am beyond excited to see how the gold actually turns out when it’s done in gold leaf. I love the cover, and I think it adds beautifully to look of the series.

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Kingdom of Ash is scheduled for release on October 23, 2018. 

Here are summaries of the first three books that I wrote a while ago when I was doing a re-readathon. I never wrote summaries for the remaining books, but these can get you started. To see more summaries, visit the lovely folks at Book Series Recaps, who do the entire book community a favor by writing both reviews and summaries of lots of popular books.

Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the new cover?

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Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

 

  • Screen Shot 2018-06-06 at 10.25.51 AM.pngMy rating: 3 out of 5 stars
  • Published by Philomel Books
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
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Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her.

Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high? Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and  exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with both breathtaking pain and beauty, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns possesses all the hallmarks of masterful fantasy: dazzling magic, heartbreaking romance, and a world that hangs in the balance. Fans of Heartless, Stealing Snow, and Red Queen will devour this stunning debut.

Continue reading for my review

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