My mom and I went shopping earlier this month, and I bought a few books that sounded really good. The first one was The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang.
The Poppy War tells the story of Rin, a war-orphan who has set her sights on attending Sinegard, her country's best military academy. After acing the entrance test, she quickly discovers that getting in was the easy part - remaining at Sinegard will be more of a challenge, especially when the other students and some of the teachers do not believe she belongs.
I was fully on board with The Poppy War through this beginning part. I thought it was really interesting being along with Rin's struggles and fight to remain there, how she accidentally opened herself up to a God, and ended up pledging Lore after her first year, rather than Strategy like she planned. I loved her quirky teacher, Jiang, and really enjoyed their interactions as he imparted his wisdom to her in his unique way.
But then parts 2 and 3 of the book happened. Rin's country, Nikara, has long been threatened by the Federation of Mugen, a neighbouring island nation that was hellbent on conquering Nikara. When war breaks out, Rin and her classmates quickly find themselves drafted into the army. Rin is given to the Cike, a small division made up entirely of shamans (people connected to the gods).
These sections of the book get progressively more and more difficult to read. Rin's commander seems to slip more and more into madness from his god, while also under tremendous pressure to succeed. He is angered that Rin isn't calling the Phoenix (both their God), despite her having done so before. He ends up hitting her in a very uncomfortable scene, which makes her call forth the fire; he then remarks "So that's what it takes." This is made all the more uncomfortable because Rin seemed to have feelings for him.
But that didn't prepare me for the massacre of Golyn Niis (Chapter 21). I had no idea it was coming. I've since read that it is based off of a historical event where the Japanese massacred a Chinese city in much the same way.
After getting through that chapter, I honestly thought I was going to stop reading. But the book has good reviews, so I hoped it would get better. Besides, I had already made it through about 400 out of 500 pages. So I decided to persevere.
Unfortunately, while not as rough as that one chapter, I had a very hard time with the remainder of the book. Along with the very uncomfortable situations that Rin found herself in, I also could not longer connect with her as a character. She made some very terrible choices at the end of the book that I did not like reading about.
In the end, I found that The Poppy War was not the book for me. I will not be reading the rest of the trilogy.