The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

the poppy war recap

The basics

Title: The Poppy War


Series: The Poppy War #1

- The Poppy War (2018)
- The Dragon Republic (2019)

Add it: Goodreads

Goodreads Summary:

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.

Here is a spoiler summary of what happened in The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang to help refresh your memory before you read the sequel. The Dragon Republic is out on 6th August and we’re so darn excited!

in short

Rin, a war orphan, works her butt off to get into Sinegard Academy. She becomes an apprentice in Lore, under Master Jiang. War breaks out between the Nikara and the Federation of Mugen. Sinegard is invaded. Rin joins the thirteenth division and heads to Khurdalain. The siege on Khurdalain turns out to be a distraction, as the Federation army is actually heading to Golyn Niis. The Cike reach Golyn Niis and find it massacred. Altan and Rin go to the prison to release the gods, realise it’s a bad idea, get captured by the Federation and taken to a lab, which Altan sacrifices himself to burn down. Rin swims to Speer, summons the Phoenix, and destroys the entire island of Mugen. Then she sets her sights on the Empress.

what happened in The Poppy War?

  • Rin is a war orphan. The Fangs were forced to take her in. The Fangs are opium dealers, and plan to marry Rin off to an inspector. Rin doesn’t want this, so she plans to take a test to get into Sinegard Academy instead.
  • Rin studies day and night, and she tests so well that her score is top of the entire province.
  • Rin and her tutor, Feyrik, travel to Sinegard Academy. Rin hates the city as soon as she sees it. Feyrik has to return to the south once Rin has been dropped off.
  • Rin hears Nezha insulting Feyrik, so she punches him in the face. He threatens to kill her. And thus begins a wonderful friendship.
  • Classes begin. Rin manages to keep up and she does really well in Strategy, which is what she wants to apprentice in.
  • Rin gets kicked out of Combat class for fighting with Nezha. Obviously she’s upset but she tries to train herself using books.
  • Jiang, the Lore master, takes an interest and offers to train her. He’s surprisingly good. Rin upsets him by admitting she wants to apprentice in Strategy with Irjah, and Jiang stops training her.
  • The exams happen. Rin gives some good answers, and catches the teachers’ attention with her answer about Speer, and island that was decimated during the Poppy War.
  • Rin takes part in the Tournament, fights amazingly, and then fights Nezha in the final. She wins. She gets so angry that she starts to burn up. She runs to the garden and Jiang says he’ll teach her to control her powers like he was going to teach Altan, the last surviving Speerly.
  • Rin chooses to apprentice in Lore (and I should hope so too!).
  • Rin spends the holidays at Kitay’s estate. There’s a parade and she spots the Empress for the first time.
  • Back at the Academy, Rin starts training with Jiang. He introduces her to shamanism very, very slowly because previous apprentices have lost their minds and/or been imprisoned.
  • There’s a fight at the border and some Mugen people get killed. Sh*t is about to go down.
  • Rin learns to meditate and Jiang sends her to a cave so she can talk to the gods. She meditates for days and ends up seeing the Pantheon, but not before being told to turn back by a strange Woman.
  • Jiang tells Rin she can’t summon the gods without a price.
  • Tyr is spying for the Empress on a Mugen ship. The Empress boards the ship and kills Tyr. All the shamans feel his death.
  • War breaks out. The Horse province falls and Mugen soldiers march towards Sinegard. The city is half evacuated. Rin and her classmates stay to fight. Rin is fighting alongside Nezha when the Mugen general arrives. Jiang saves them with his floaty staff magic. The general recognises him and says he is sealed. “Am I now?” *squee*
  • Jiang makes the wall collapse but the general survives. He stabs Nezha and Rin taps into her Phoenix powers to save herself.
  • Rin is kept contained so she can’t burn down the rest of the city. Irjah tells her she is to join the Cike, and Altan will be in charge. (Tyr used to lead the Cike but… he’s dead.)
  • Rin heads to Khurdalain, where the Cike are camped out. Three sides of the city are surrounded by Federation soldiers. Altan comes up with a plan to destroy their ships and supplies. It works, but Rin is unable to call upon the Phoenix.
  • Some Federation guys arrive holding a white flag. They start to discuss having the people at Khurdalain surrender, but then they just blow things up instead.
  • A thousand people are injured and many are killed. Rin helps the wounded. Civilians start to turn on one another. Baji tells Altan that his plans are stupid.
  • The Seventh Division ft. Nezha arrives. He and Rin chat. Enki tells Rin that Nezha is a shaman, but she doesn’t believe him. This will probably be important in Book Two.
  • Altan tells Rin she’s useless and leaves bruises on her. He tells her not to talk to Nezha.
  • Rin keeps seeing the Speerly Woman when she meditates. The Woman tells her not to five in.
  • When Rin is on watch, the crowd starts running from something. It’s a chimei – a creepy shapeshifter like the one from ATLA. Rin volunteers to kill it and Nezha goes with her. Rin thinks it came through when Jiang opened the gates.
  • They find a child who is so obviously the chimei that it’s painful. They finally realise. They get a bit distracted, but Rin eventually kills it.
  • Later, the Militia are trying to break through the Federation’s stronghold when the Mugen soldiers release a gas. Nezha gets caught in it and dragged away by the enemy. Altan takes a Federation solider as a prisoner of war.
  • Rin is angry that Altan wouldn’t save Nezha. Altan hits her and she finally summons her fire.
  • Rin goes to talk to Chaghan, Altan’s lieutenant, who has finally returned from whatever it was he was doing. He takes her to a Divinatory and Rin casts a Hexagram. The Talwu speaks in riddles but Chaghan seems to understand and freaks out.
  • Chaghan warns Altan that they have to leave Khurdalain. Altan interrogates his prisoner, who tells him the Federation army is heading towards Golyn Niis, and Khurdalain was just a distraction.
  • They reach Golyn Niis and it’s a massacre. The Federation have killed and mutilated pretty much everyone in the city. The streets are covered with corpses.
  • Thankfully, Rin finds Kitay alive. Venka is there too, but she’s not doing so well.
  • Rin hears Altan and Chaghan arguing about what to do. Altan wants to free the gods from Chuluu Korikh, the mountain prison. Chaghan says this is a bad idea and leaves with Qara.
  • Altan and Rin head to Chuluu Korikh. They find Jiang, who warns them against their plan, and then entombs himself in rock again.
  • Altan frees Feylen, who is possessed by the god of the winds. He escapes.
  • The Federation are waiting for them when they leave the mountain. They capture Rin and Altan and take them to the lab that Altan was kept in as a child.

how did The Poppy War end?

  • Rin and Altan summon their ancestors and use their power to escape. Rin swims to Speer and Altan burns down the lab, presumably killing himself.
  • Rin uses the Phoenix to destroy Mugen. Yes, the entire island.
  • Kitay is horrified at what Rin has done, but Rin thinks she did the right thing by committing genocide.
  • Chaghan and Qara return and say they flooded the countryside and the invaders using the damn, which is what Rin suggested they do in her first year at the Academy. I love it when things come full circle.
  • Rin swears revenge on the Empress, who sold out the country to the Mugen people.

That’s what happened in The Poppy War! I’m sure you will all agree that it’s a fantastic book that’s well worth your time. I can’t wait for The Dragon Republic! Check out our recap list for more recaps. If you can’t find what you need, you can request a recap from us!

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  • Tom Collins says:

    I love when recaps are posted. Makes it so much easier to follow the sequel. Thanks.

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