What can I say about this series that the internet hasn’t already said? It’s great! Amazing! Spellbinding! I truly love it and there better be a third novel. I read that it was conceived as trilogy but I have yet to read any announcement of when the next book will be released. So crosses fingers!
Bree has just lost her mother in a car accident and is grieving in when her and her best friend, Alice start classes at Early college program at University of North Carolina. Bree immediately starts noticing strange things around campus and can’t help but think it might be connected to her mother’s death. With the help of Nicolas, the boy who is supposed to mentor her, work together to infiltrate a secret society based around King Arthur and Round Table and well things are more than what she bargained for.
This novel not only goes into the myth of Arthur but also the brutal of history of slavery and racism. This may be 21st century America but the legacy of Slavery is still far too close to us. Bree does what she has to do to fit in and has the right heritage but will never be fully accepted because of the color of her skin. It’s a complicated history that I can never do justice here. The other major theme of this series is Grief and generational trauma. Which seems to be a trend among popular media these days but that’s another essay. We begin the series with Bree being angry about her mother’s death and needs someone to blame for it and the society with all it’s money and trappings is the perfect target. She’s not entirely wrong for blaming them but not for the reason she thinks. This is really her journey to get herself through the trauma of it and coming out the other side. I highly recommend it for all fantasy fans looking for a new take a old story because it is a quite a ride.
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.
For anyone who has seen Encanto will find many of the stories themes familiar. Especially from the beginning. It starts with the Matriarch of the family, Orquidea Divina invited her family back to her magical home for her death. The Montoya’s grew up in her home that always had everything they needed and they never questioned it. When they arrive, things are a miss and her death doesn’t go as planned but family pulls together to send her off. Orquidea was a complicated woman, like most people are but even more so to her family. She was a loving woman who gave all to her family but she was also very secretive and leaves the family reeling if they even knew here. Marimar, her granddaughter in particularly has some feelings about her Grandma. As does her cousins, Ray and Tatinelly. Seven years after her death, they are forced to go to Ecuador where Orquidea was born to discover her past to save their futures. Its basically a story of family trauma and family healing. Again, a lot like Encanto.
That’s where the comparisons end though. This story goes back and forth and the “present day” and the Orquidea’s past. Both storylines entwine to tell the story of Orquidea and the Montoya’s. Before she passes, she tells her family that she can’t tell them who is coming for them and they must find who. Marimar is to me the main character. She inherited the house and rebuilds. I feel like she is the one that is most connected to her. She goes through the wringer in this book but really comes out of it better. She is quite a extraordinary person. She starts out to be very guarded and for awhile she really starts to shut herself off. It’s her way of protecting herself but when tragedy strikes the family and she has to move, she does. It’s really through her eyes that we get to know Orquidea and the Montoya’s family and who they were and what they will become. So, if you like magical realism and Encanto, I think you will like this book too.
Ning is on the run with the Princess and the banished Prince has taken over power. Ning knows who is responsible for the poisoned tea across the country but since she has been branded as the enemy of the state she doesn’t have many allies. So she goes with Princess Zhen to find solutions. Meanwhile, Kang wants desperately to get his father’s approval but he also can see that some things are a miss. They soon discover a magical conspiracy centuries in the making and only Ning’s Shennong-shi powers can save them. I like this. I thought it was a good sequel to the first book. I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite in love with Kang’s POV as much as Ning’s but it was necessary for us to know what was going on in the capital since Ning was no longer there. I love Ning’s strength and self doubt. She was real She is dealing with other worldly powers and she isn’t even a trained Shennong-shi but she persevered through it. Her sister, Shu was a welcomed addition to the story and I adored Princess Zhen and Ruyi’s relationship. So, if you are looking for a fantasy that is not based on western mythology or world building. I highly recommend this series.