Review: The Poppy War Trilogy by R.F. Kuang

This series is brutal and unflinching. It is a really a brutal read. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I truly understood what I was getting into when I started this last month. It was like the one book that people on Booktok seemed to all agree was a must read. I was intrigued that it was a fantasy that was based on East Asian history. Specifically Chinese history. I am not familiar with Chinese history but I definitely recognized the parallels from 20th century China and the Japanese occupation of some areas of the country and the attempted colonization from Western Nations. The Poppy War Trilogy tackles the trauma of colonialism, war, famine, sexual assault and racism. The Poppy War follows Rin, an orphan from a poor southern province of Nikara. Her guardians try to marry her off so she decides to take the test to get into the elite military school and not only passes it, she gets the highest score in her province. This shocks everyone and instead of celebrating it, she is accused of cheating. Things don’t get much better when she arrives at Sinegard. She is looked down for her poor upbringing and dark skin. She has to fight to prove hat she belongs and it isn’t easy. The first day, she makes the enemy of Nezha, the son of the Dragon lord but also make friends with Kitay, the son of a minister to the Empress. The Mugenese, who live on the island of the coast of Nikara, who has tried twice to conquer Nikara in the Previous Poppy wars. After a couple of years at Sinegard, the Mugenese invade and Rin and her schoolmates have to go to war. Rin discovers she is a Shaman and can channel the power of the Phoenix god and summon fire. With great power there are costs and Shamans don’t always have control of her minds. She is constantly fighting to keep her own mind while wanted to have the power. She likes the power it gives her. However, coming to grips with what she can do and how it effects others is hard to always come to terms with. To be clear, Rin does some unconscionable things in this series. There are at times, I just couldn’t justify her behavior but most of the time I could. The biggest criticism, I read about her online was how unlikable she was. And yeah, she’s not so great. She’s immature, stubborn, easy to manipulate and easy to rile up but even when she starts to spiral into madness, it made sense to me. When you factor all that she has been through. All that she had to endure in such short life, it made sense why she would act this way Yes, it is hard to justify but it rang true to who she was.

As the story progresses and we go further and further into the wars, the cost of war becomes evident and devasting. War effects the poor more than it does the rich. It’s not the rich that have to flee their homes or starve. It’s not usually their woman who are raped or their man forced into service. The depictions of all these things are unflinching. There is no shying away from the brutal results of war. It can be triggering. Just as the cruel depiction of colonialism and the trauma of being erased in your own country. The Mugenese were the first enemy but other outside enemy is the Hespira, who represented Western Nations who came in wanted to take advantage of the natural resources. I appreciate how religion played a huge role in the Hespirans plans to take control because often times the role of Christianity is downplayed or unmentioned when we talk about western colonialism. The Hespirans wanted to make Nikara more “civilized” and to do that meant making them more like them and that includes converted them to their religion.

I truly loved this series but it is not for everyone. It is not for everyone. As I mentioned, it does not shy away from the graphic depiction of violence of war, towards woman. Rin is own penchant for committing violence herself is no less jarring. All of this is necessary to telling the story and if you are willing to take it all in. It is worth the ride.

Happy PRIDE!

Happy Pride month. Here are a few of my favorite books and series that feature LGBTQIA+ characters. What are your favorites? Leave them in the comments.

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao – Polyamorous
Science Fantasy reimagining of the rise of Chinese Empress Wu Zetian. With a true love triangle as Zetian has two love interests who are also in love with each other. There truly isn’t anything else like it.

These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling – Lesbian
Love is always hard but harder when you meet someone new but your ex girlfriend is still apart of your coven and there are witch hunters after you.

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova – Bi
The first of the Brooklyn Brujas trilogy follows Alex, who hates magic so much she accidently makes her family vanish and has to go into a different realm to find them. She also discovers herself as well.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan – Lesbian
This is not an easy read as it deals with sexual assault but at it’s core is a love story between two young girls who risk everything to be together.

Carry On Trilogy by Rainbow Rowell – Gay
Based on fan fiction written by another of Rainbow Rowell’s characters in Fangirl and takes it to a new level. Harry Potter like chosen Simon Snow falls in love with his childhood enemy Baz. Fans of the enemies to lovers will love it.

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland, Bi
This is actually the second book in the series but I’m picking it as it goes more into main character, Jane’s sexuality. Jane is an amazing character that just knows how to survive and isn’t going to let some zombies get in the way.

Rick Riordan books – Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans, Ace
Rick Riordan’s many children series based on world mythology are filled with LGBTQIA+ characters. I would first suggest Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series. Main character, Magnus is definitely queer who falls in love with Alex who is trans. The Trials of Apollo series follows God Apollo who based on Greek mythology was bisexual. Actually many of the Gods of different world mythologies are somewhere on the rainbow and Riordan doesn’t shy away from these stories just because who writes for kids.

ShadowHunters Chronicles by Cassandra Clare – Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans, Poly
Like. Rick Riordan, Cassandra Clare’s ShadowHunters Chronicles populated with many LGBTQIA+. Original series features Alex and Magnus, a gay shadowhunter and a bi-sexual warlock. The Dark Artifices series features a poly relationship, a trans character and more than 1 same sex couples. The most recent series, The Last Hours has a bisexual and lesbian character as part of the main group of characters even takes place in Edwardian England. I’ll admit that as the series go on, there are times I get tired at the formulaic it is but I always come back for the characters because they are always well written

The Dreamers Trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater – Gay
A spin series from her popular Ravens Cycle, centers around gay and dreamer and Ronan. True, his relationship with fellow Raven Boy, Adam, isn’t the center of the story as many who read the first series would assume but it’s not far off. Anyways, Ronan is a fantastic character who l love and what the world for him.

Audible is having a sale!

So, I have been recently going through my subscriptions and canceling things that I haven’t been using. The pandemic has killed my interest in many things, I think this is what we call burnout? And I’m taking this as an opportunity to try new things and see what I like (and maybe save a little money). I’m obviously not abandoning reading or abandoning audiobooks, but I’ve got some credits built up and a TBR that exceeds my life expectancy, so it might be time to pause my audible subscription for a while.

And just in time for an audible sale (that is ending tonight), I log in to take a look at my wishlist. So, I thought it might be fun to see what I got with my surplus of credits.

First up, we have The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers. This is a sci-fi book about a truck stop sort of spaceport on the galactic road. The description makes it seem like it might be slice of space life/centering a mother-child relationship. I’m excited to see if I’m right.

The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Next up we have Jake’s Magical Market by J.R. Matthews. This looks like it is going to be about a clever child during an alien invasion. I’m hoping it is fun because it appears to be the first in a series.

Jake’s Magical Market by J.R. Matthews

I will be honest and say I picked the next one because I was pulled in by the cover art. This is a YA novel by an award-winning author to promises to be full of mystery and magic.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

My next selection is Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse. This is, I believe, YA and Sci-fi. It also had a neat cover. I’ve heard that Rebecca Roanhorse is a good writer and I don’t think I’ve read anything by her yet, so I’m excited to try this one.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

My next pick is the Girl who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh. This seems like it is going to be full of magic and heroism and I am so excited for it. The main character is a young woman who makes a sacrifice to save her brother and then goes on a quest to save her people.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh.

My last pick (which was actually my first pick) is These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong. This one is set in 1920s Shanghai and appears to be about gangsters and flappers. There may be some disease and mayhem and mystery. I couldn’t tell you why but I love novels set in historical Shanghai, so I am very pleased this was an option for me to pick.

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

And thus ends this haul post. Hopefully, I will get to some of these sooner rather than later and I can follow up on them.

Have you bought any books recently? What have you picked up that you’re excited to dive into next?

Review: A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin

I admitted that I picked this book based on the cover. It is so pretty. Thankfully the book was good or I would have been super disappointed. Ning is from a small town but one day gets an invitation from the Palace to compete to be the new shennong-shi, a master of the art of magic and tea. If she wins and becomes the Palace’s shennong-shi it will bring her power she can only dream of but more importantly, it will give her access to cure to save her sister. Ning immediately gets caught up in Palace politics. The Princess is currently ruling as he Emperor is sick. Her cousin, the son of the banished Prince wants something but his motives are allusive. Others in court have their own agenda. Who can Ning trust? It’s a lot of back and forth as I doubted each character’s motives, convinced that they were the bad guys, only to be surprised at the end. Ning is definitely my favorite character. She is super smart but a little naïve. She is a little over her head when it comes to the machinations of court. Despite that, she is very resourceful and talented. She is able to move through the competition by using what she knows and being able to think on her feet. She often knows the smart thing is to walk away but the does the right thing and stay and help. This often gets her in trouble but also helps her find allies. I was really drawn to this book and sad, I have to wait until October for the sequels. I guess I should be grateful, I don’t have wait a year.

What I’m Reading Now: A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin

I am not going to lie. I picked this book because of the cover. I mean just look at it! It’s just so pretty!!

What I’m Reading Now: Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong

Okay this series is as good as everyone said it was.

What I’m Reading Now: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

I resisted reading this for a while despite the good reviews because the world doesn’t need another Romeo and Juliet story but maybe they do. So for it’s been pretty amazing.

What I’m Reading Now: Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

I went looking for a new fantasy novel to read and this came up and I’m intrigued. I do like a good historical drama. Especially when you add magical elements to it.

What I’m Reading Now: Wayward Witch by Zoraida Cordova

Latinx Brooklyn witches. Yes please

Review: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

This book was heartbreaking as it was beautiful. The reality that Indigenous Women face everyday is kind of horrifying when you think about how susceptible they are to violence and little resources they have to help them. Daunis straddles between two worlds. She’s half indigenous and half white. The white half also happens to be one of the richest families in her town. So rich that one of the dorms in the local University was named after her grandfather. She belongs to both worlds but doesn’t. When multiple deaths due to overdose on Meth, Daunis gets recruited by the FBI to help with the investigation on a possible Meth ring coming from the Rez. Around the same time, a new boy moves to town that is mysterious as he’s attractive and adds a new complication to her life. In the investigation, Daunis uncovers some truths about people in her life that she thought she knew and some even more painful harsh reality. Many of which she had been shielded from thanks to her mix heritage and that she is light skin and easily passes as white. A privilege that has kept her safe up until now. The intersection of racism and misogyny comes in full force in this one as it’s pretty clear that both lead to so many of the issues that led to this happening and it’s hard to read. Daunis is picked to help with the investigation because of her knowledge of her tribes customs but also her understanding of chemistry. I love her Daunis pieces things together and works through the problem to find a solution. She is as brave as she is smart and doing so helps solves the mystery but unfortunately at a personal cost. I have to say, this is not an easy read because the reality that Indigenous women face every day are hard and the lack of empathy and resources they receive is heartbreaking. Even with Daunis privilege of being half white and born into a wealthy family is not enough to shield her from them. So please bare that in mind when you pick it up. It is definitely worth the read and I highly recommend it. It’s a novel that is going to stick with me for a long time.