I’m not sure where to begin with this novel. It was good but it didn’t grab the way The Poppy Wars did. I would have to say this is much more of a slow burner for me. I was almost half way through before I truly got interested in Robin’s story and wanting to know how it would end. From a young age, Robin was taken to England from China under the guardianship of Professor Lovell. Despite the fact his family was poor, they always had a lived in tutor to teach him English. He soon discovers that it Lovell who had been paying for her. When he is brought to England, he is immediately put to work to study languages as the end goal was for him to go to Oxford and join Babel, the translation school that controls all the silver in the world. England has found a way to use language to power silver and to expand their Empire. Robin goes on a journey of discovering who he is and how he has been essentially been weaponized against his own country. It’s not an easy read as Robin questions ourselves we also must question our own culpability. Like in the Poppy Wars, R.F. Kuang is unflinching when she comes to describing the effects of colonization on the world but also to people of color who live with their on colonizers. On the one hand, Robin is very lucky to be taken out of poverty and given the opportunities to be learn at Oxford and live a comfortable life but he was also taken from his family and his homeland without much of a choice and forced to learn what his guardian wanted him to learn. It’s an allusion of freedom. For me one of the most effective characters is Letty. She is in Robin’s cohort at Oxford and the only white student. She is the perfect example of white privilege and not understanding her privilege. She is the daughter of an admiral. Raised on the aristocracy but because she is a woman she has always been looked down or given much thought even though she was always a bright. If she was a boy, she would have been seen as the genius that she was but since she wasn’t she was raised to be the perfect wife and mother one day. She resents the privileges that she saw her brother waste and when she is given the opportunity to take his place in Oxford she grabs it. But even there she has to have a man vouch for her to take out a book at the library. She has to live off campus and has to deal with sexist comments. She felt she finally found people who could relate with her POC classmates but being white she will never truly understand their struggles. So when they start to rebel against the nation that she feels has given so much instead of them being grateful she feels betrayed. As if they have personally offended her. Even though she helps to cover up the same crime she is spared any of the backlash because again she is white and still she doesn’t understand why they have right to be angry. I can see why Letty as a character would upset many readers because we have to confront our own privilege and that’s not a comfortable thing. So If you are looking for a challenging book, give this a try.
Tag Archives: R.F. Kuang
What I’m Reading Now: Babel by R.F. Kuang
I remember this being big on Booktok last summer and how many men did not like it and and that just made it more interesting to me. After starting this, I feel like this is also up Kate’s alley too.
Beth’s Favorite Books of 2022!!!
It’s that time of the year again. Where we all look back and reflect on the past year and everything we read and take stock in all the good books and stories. In 2022, I read 43 books. 8 books more than last year. So reading wise, I think this year was successful. Looking over my books from this year I would say there was a theme and it was fantasy novels lead by female characters. I really leaned into that this year. So without further ado, here are some of my favorite books that I read in 2022 in no particularly order. I’m going to do this list in the order of which I read them.
- Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth – There are so many books that feature children or young adults who are charged with saving the world from Percy Jackson to Harry Potter but what happens when they succeed and grow up. Chosen Ones is just that. A group of 6 ones saved the world 10 years ago but the trauma of that time is still with them despite the fame that came with it. Tragedy strikes and they are all the evil they thought they rid themselves is back. It was just great. They all handled their shared experience and I think that’s important to explore because we all process trauma and grief differently and I don’t think we all appreciate that.
- Sort of Super by Eric Gapstur – Yes, this was written by a friend but even if it wasn’t I would have loved it. It such a joyful story of a young boy and his sister learning about their new super powers. The artwork is so vibrant and colorful that really makes the story pop of the page. I can’t wait to read the next adventure.
- A LIttle Too Familiar by Lish Mcbride – This was the perfect palette cleanser for whatever ails you. It was a sweet and wholesome romance novel between a witch who pairs people to their familiar animals and a werewolf. A little on the spicy side but just so amazing. If you haven’t read any of Lish Mcbride’s book this one is a good one to start with or her Necromancer series.
- The Priory and the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – Everything you could ever want from a high fantasy novel. A quest, romance, magic and dragons. I will admit the sapphic love story in the center of the story could have a few more scenes but a minor complaint to an almost perfect story.
- The Sandman by Neil Gaiman – I maybe a bit late to this one but I loved characters and stories. The little vignettes in between the major story arcs. I listened to the audio presentation, so the voice work of James McAvoy and Kat Dennings among others might have something to do with how much I loved it but it was so great. I haven’t finished the series yet but I can’t wait to listen to Act 3.
- The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina by Zoraida Cordova – You can be forgiven if you read this and immediately thought of Encanto. They both use magical realism to tell the story of family trauma but this takes it so much farther than Encanto could. For one it’s not a Disney Movie. The Divina family are a magical family that is both blessed and cursed and Orquidea’s grandchildren must resolve the her past for them to move forward. So beautifully done.
- The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang – A mix of history and magic that explores the harsh realities of colonialism, race and war. There is no winners but only losers when it comes to all of these legacy and R.F. Kuang doesn’t let up in here commentary. It is not an easy read but so worth it.
- Greywaren by Maggie Stiefvater – The Dreamers Trilogy and the Raven Cycle comes to an end with this satisfying final novel. The Lynch brothers learn to be brothers again and save the world. Hennessy found peace in herself and Jordan got to live her life. I am sad that the end to this series but characters like this will live forever.
- Legendborn by Tracy Deonn – I just finished this book but this was great. A new twist on the Arthurian legend. The Round table never disbanded but the ancestors of the legendary knights still fight demons from another realm. Bree has just lost her mother and to find answers she joins a new club to only be discover so much more. This book tackles more than just myths but racism and slavery and how as much as we think we are beyond it but how it still is very much apart of us. I have already started the next book in the series.
So that’s it Those are my favorite books I read this year. What were your favorite books? Leave them in the comments and maybe I’ll add them to my list for 2023.
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.
What I’m Reading Now: The Burning God by R.F. Kuang
Oh Rin. I sort of feel like this an only end one way and I am not prepared.
What I’m Reading Now: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
Okay, so Booktok was right. The Poppy Wars was amazing. I didn’t know it was a series, though!! Woohoo!
What I’m Reading Now: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
I feel like this the one book that all of Booktok can agree on that needs to be read.