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Book Review: The Poppy War

Book Review: The Poppy War

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Series:  The Poppy War (Book 1)

Genre: Fantasy, military fantasy

First published: 1st May 2018 by Harper Voyager (US) & 3rd May 2018 by Harper Voyager (UK)


I wanted to love The Poppy War quite desperately given its inspiration (and gorgeous cover).

The Poppy War is firstly a welcome change to the standard western Europe medieval setting and secondly, it is an allegory to the history of China. The narrative casts a harsh light on the brutal history of early 20th century China, specifically the genocide of the Nanjing Massacre. The mythology and culture present in the story are also so closely depicted that the novel almost reads like historical fiction, albeit in a secondary world.

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Jade City (The Green Bone Saga, #1)

Jade City (The Green Bone Saga, #1)

Jade City by Fonda Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fantasy readers have been calling out for more diversity and Jade City is a resoundingly good response.

The urban fantasy setting that heavily evoked Chinese gangster/crime syndicate movies, which I’ve grown up on, is a paradoxical breath of fresh air that carried the scent of nostalgia. All that was needed to make it even cooler and awesome was magic and martial arts.

I will not rehash the plot since the blurb said it all without spoilers. I found the world-building both refreshing and familiar. The island of Kekon in my mind was a vibrant blend of Hong Kong and Shanghai where both the seedy and sophisticated sat side by side, controlled and protected by powerful clans in exchange for tribute money.

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The Sword of Kaigen (A Theonite War Story)

The Sword of Kaigen (A Theonite War Story)

The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang
My rating: 6 of 5 stars

Simply phenomenal; The Sword of Kaigen is a stunning achievement of empathetic and masterful storytelling.

Every once in a while, a book comes along that sinks its hooks and claws into your very soul. It transcends beyond what a 5-star book usually means to me. It is a book that I will plead, beg and maybe even force everyone to read, so that they can experience the same awe and emotions as I did.  Thus far, I have not gone down the road of awarding 6 stars to some of my favourites, but there are several that I could easily place in that category. Namely The Stormlight Archive, a few titles from Malazan Book of the Fallen, and Heir of Novron, the final omnibus of The Riyria Revelations. Now, this extraordinary stand-alone fantasy novel, which is a rarity in itself, has earned itself a well-deserved spot among these masterpieces.

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Underlord (Cradle, #6)

Underlord (Cradle, #6)

Underlord by Will Wight
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Such insane power. Such insane fun. That, in a nutshell, is the Cradle series, and Underlord is its current pinnacle.

Underlord was everything that its title promised adoring fans (including yours truly), and so much more. The Prologue was so ridiculously epic it gave me goosebumps, and all the awesomeness that was the Cradle series came crashing down on me again. I tried to prolong the enjoyment by keeping myself occupied with things to do, to avoid finishing the book too quickly. Alas, it barely lasted 36 hours from the time I received the download from my pre-order.

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Ghostwater (Cradle, #5)

Ghostwater (Cradle, #5)

Ghostwater by Will Wight
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Ghostwater is a worthy winner of the Reddit r/Fantasy 2018 Stabby Awards for Best Independent Book; I am now a huge fan of the Cradle series.

The author kept on surprising me with his inexhaustible imagination and the ever-increasing, mind-blowing, magnitude of magical and martial power in this series.  All without ever making me think that it was ridiculous.  Well, okay, it was – just ridiculously fun and exciting, that is.

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Blackflame (Cradle, #3)

Blackflame (Cradle, #3)

Blackflame by Will Wight
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

I think I am finally in love. Blackflame was a fantastic continuation of the Cradle series.

Integrating the fascinating Eastern-inspired worldbuilding and magic-martial arts system with better characterisation, Blackflame was easily the best book in the series so far. Even though I’m still not wild about the main protagonist, Wei Shi Lindon, I was growing more invested in what his future may bring. At the end of Soulsmith, Lindon found himself being given one year to train and advance in his sacred arts in order to fight an opponent that is way more powerful. Lindon seemed to be the typical underdog character who kept defying the odds through a combination of sheer drive, ambition and a bit of providence. Notwithstanding, one can’t help but be curious to see how his story will pan out.

“Sometimes the game is rigged against you, and your only option is to flip the board.”

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Soulsmith (Cradle, #2)

Soulsmith (Cradle, #2)

Soulsmith by Will Wight
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

A worthy sequel that expands on the worldbuilding and magic system, Soulsmith delivers on the promise of an engaging and fascinating story of epic powers inspired by Far Eastern martial arts.

Outside of the Sacred Valley in pursuit of advancement, Lindon came face-to-face with his destiny as he encountered powers beyond his imagination. The most powerful amongst the clans and Schools within the Valley are mere children compared to the dime a dozen Golds that can be found in the Desolate Wilds. As expected, and I don’t believe it to be a spoiler to say so, Lindon did manage to level up in his powers. How that happened, though, is the part where I will not deign to reveal.  Safe to say, it was far from painless.

“The sacred arts are a game, and your life is the only thing you’ve got to bet. You want to move up? This is what up looks like.”

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Unsouled (Cradle, #1)

Unsouled (Cradle, #1)

Unsouled by Will Wight
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

I have heard great things about Will Wight’s books. If Unsouled was just a taste of what the Cradle series has to offer, I will say those praises are well-founded.

Cradle is an Eastern-inspired fantasy with complex worldbuilding and a cool magic system that reminds me of the Chinese martial art genres of wuxia (heroic) and xianxia (immortal). The narrative follows a young man, Wei Shi Lindon, an Unsouled who was not allowed to learn the sacred arts of his clan in the Sacred Valley. There are myriad paths that a sacred artist can follow, utilising the core of their soul to employ and control the vital aura; forces of the natural world. This power from the soul is called madra.  Through various means of progression, which includes training, ingesting elixirs and spirit-fruits, a sacred artist can level up from different stages of madra mastery and strength from Copper to Iron, to Jade and then to Gold. There are also magical artefacts, or Treasures, which also range from those that can be wielded by the lower-ranked sacred artists to those that can only be powered by stronger madra.

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