Rin, an orphan raised by a family that treats her badly, is no Harry Potter, despite the superficial similarities. No kindly wizards await her; there are no summons from a cute feathered familiar. She studies day and night to be able to attend the military academy at the city of Sinegard, the capital of Nikara. She wins a coveted place at the Academy through sheer endurance, but once she arrives, she realizes how far she still has to go. The rich and educated students are dismissive or downright cruel to Rin, because she comes from a farming district in the south of Nikara, and has darker skin.
After several strenuous years at the Academy, another student’s taunts and bullying lead to a fight, during which Rin displays supernatural ability during combat. Until that moment, Rin displays no unusual traits other than exceptional endurance in the face of pain and disappointment. Only the eccentric Lore teacher, Jiang, understands that she has the ability to call down a god to inhabit her body, allowing her to fight with supernatural powers. He’s hoping he can convince her this path will only lead to madness and destruction.
Rin initially listens to Jiang, but when she is assigned to the Cike, an assassination squad, after graduation, she falls under the sway of the commander, the charismatic and powerful Altan. Altan, like her, is a Speerly, a member of an island race almost obliterated by the genocide of the Mugen, the enemy of the Nikara.
When the Mugen invade Nikara again, Altan and his small band of outcast assassins try in vain to win a significant victory. After discovering the slaughter of the entire population of a town and trying to console a former classmate who survived multiple rapes, Rin is willing to try anything to save the rest of Nikara. But will the solution Altan proposes be the ultimate catastrophe?
Join me as I talk to R. F. Kuang
about her novel The Poppy War
(Harper Voyager, 2019).
Gabrielle Mathieu is the author of the historical fantasy Falcon series and the upcoming epic fantasy,
Girl of Fire. She blogs about travel and her books at http://gabriellemathieu.com/. You can also follow her on Twitter to get updates about new podcasts and more @GabrielleAuthor.