The Poppy War

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The Poppy War
The Poppy War 1st cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorR. F. Kuang
Audio read byEmily Woo Zeller
Cover artistJung Shan Chang
CountryUnited States
SeriesPoppy War trilogy
Release number
GenreGrimdark, High fantasy
Set inAn alternate world
PublisherHarper Voyager
Publication date
May 1, 2018
Media typePrint, digital
ISBN978-0062662569 (hardback)
Followed byThe Dragon Republic 

The Poppy War is a 2018 novel by R. F. Kuang, published by Harper Voyager. The Poppy War, a grimdark fantasy, draws its plot and politics from mid-20th-century China,[1][2][3] with the conflict in the novel based on the Second Sino-Japanese War, and an atmosphere inspired by the Song dynasty.[4] A sequel, The Dragon Republic, was released in August 2019, and a third book, The Burning God was released November 2020.[5]

Harper Voyager's editorial director David Pomerico acquired the novel after a heated auction on Kuang's 20th birthday.[1][6]


The novel centers on a poor orphan, Rin, who studies in secret to test into the elite Sinegard Academy.[7] Kuang said Rin's life is meant to parallel the trajectory of Mao Zedong.[8] Grounded in the real-world history of Chinese wars and adding a fantasy drug element inspired by the Opium Wars,[4] The Poppy War is a dark and fatalistic tale of warfare.[9] When a conflict surfaces between the Nikara Empire and their neighboring nation, the Federation of Mugen, Rin is called to the front lines. She must decide whether to make a deal with the gods to unleash her shamanic powers. Her decision may change the war but result in the loss of her humanity.[6]


Kuang wrote The Poppy War while teaching debate in China and graduated with a degree in Chinese History from Georgetown University a few days after its release.[1] Her studies in Chinese military strategy and collective trauma inspired her to write the novel.[10][11] She said, "I chose to write a fantasy reinterpretation of China's twentieth century, because that was the kind of story I wasn't finding on bookshelves".[10]


The Poppy War was a 2018 Nebula Award nominee,[12] and was named one of the best books of the year by several publications and organizations, including The Washington Post,[13] Time,[14] The Guardian,[15] Paste,[16][17] Vulture,[18] Bustle,[19] and The Verge.[20] It has received endorsements from authors Fonda Lee, Julie C. Dao, and Kameron Hurley.[21] It was also nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.[22]

Publishers Weekly called the book "a strong and dramatic launch to Kuang's career,"[23] while Michael Nam, writing in New York Daily News, referred to The Poppy War as an ambitious start to a trilogy.[24]

Lila Garrott in Locus gave the novel a more critical review: "It's well executed for what it does, but it's a shame that Kuang chose to downplay the more original elements in favor of material that has been seen before. All of the novel's ambition seems to have gone into the worldbuilding and magic system and then not been allowed to affect the actual plot."[25] In his Wired commentary on fantasy tropes, Jason Kehe agreed that the material did not represent a "revolution" in the genre, but said that "Kuang manages to pierce through."[26]


As of November 2020, The Poppy War has been translated into 9 languages in addition to its native English.

Language Title Publication date Publisher Translator ISBN
Bulgarian Войната на маковете 2019 Orange Books Angel Angelov 978-619-171-092-8
French La guerre du pavot 2020 Actes Sud Yannis Urano 978-2330137151
German Im Zeichen der Mohnblume – Die Schamanin 2020 Blanvalet Taschenbuch Verlag Michaela Link 978-3-7341-6222-0
Hungarian Mákháború 2019 Agave Könyvek Mária Ballai 978-963-4196-40-2
Italian La guerra dei papaveri 2020 Mondadori Hakobyan Sofi 978-8804729747
Polish Wojna makowa 2020 Fabryka Słów Grzegorz Komerski 978-83-7964-527-5
Portuguese A Guerra da Papoula 2022 Intríseca Ulisses Teixeira 978-655-560-434-4
Russian Опиумная война 2019 Fanzon Rokachevskaya N. 978-5-04-103078-0
Serbian Makov rat: šaman 2020 Vulkan izdavaštvo Jelena Stanković 978-86-10-03575-9
Spanish The Poppy War 2020 Orok Nadia Carbó Mont 978-84-121949-2-0
Turkish Haşhaş Savaşı 2021 İthaki Yayınları Nevgül Güven 978-625-8475-63-0
Ukrainian Макова війна 2021 Zhorzh Hanna Lytvynenko 978-617-7853-82-3


  1. ^ a b c "Cover Story: R.F. Kuang's The Poppy War, an Epic Debut Inspired by 20th Century China". The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog. 2018-01-11. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  2. ^ "15 Best New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: May 2018". Nerd Much?. 2018-05-01. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  3. ^ Mason, Everdeen (2018-05-02). "Best science fiction and fantasy books out this month (brief book review)". Washington Post. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  4. ^ a b Pickens, Chris (2018-05-01). "R.F. Kuang - Interview". BookPage. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  5. ^ "Books - Rebecca F. Kuang". Rebecca F. Kuang. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  6. ^ a b Bourke, Liz (2018-05-02). "A Light in the Grimdark: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang". Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  7. ^ Liptak, Andrew (2018-05-02). "The 12 gripping science fiction and fantasy novels you need to check out this May". The Verge. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  8. ^ Kang, J.C. (2018-05-02). "R. F. Kuang Interview – The Poppy War". Fantasy-Faction. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  9. ^ Nam, Michael (2018-05-10). "'The Poppy War' book review: A magical, brutal coming-of-age tale in a medieval Asian fantasy world". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  10. ^ a b Duspiva, Alyssa (2018-03-26). "R.F. Kuang Stuns With Her Debut Fantasy Novel, The Poppy War". RT Book Reviews. Archived from the original on 2018-05-13. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  11. ^ "R. F. Kuang". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  12. ^ "2018 Nebula Awards". The Nebula Awards. 2018-05-18. Retrieved 2019-12-27.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ Mason, Everdeen (2018-11-13). "The 5 best science fiction and fantasy novels of 2018". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2019-12-27.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ McCluskey, Megan (2018-12-18). "The 10 Best Fantasy Books of 2018". Time (magazine). Retrieved 2019-12-27.
  15. ^ "Guardian best books of 2018: across fiction, politics, food and more". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-12-27.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)[dead link]
  16. ^ "The 12 Best Novels of 2018". Paste (magazine). 2018-12-10. Retrieved 2019-12-27.
  17. ^ "The 40 Best Novels of the 2010s". Paste (magazine). 2019-10-14. Retrieved 2019-12-27.
  18. ^ Green, Jaime (2018-12-14). "The 10 Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of 2018". Vulture. Retrieved 2019-12-27.
  19. ^ Arreola, Cristina (2018-11-28). "The 30 Best Fiction Books Of 2018 Show That Women Dominated This Year". Bustle (magazine). Retrieved 2019-12-27.
  20. ^ Liptak, Andrew (2018-12-21). "Our favorite science fiction and fantasy books of 2018". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-12-27.
  21. ^ "The Poppy War - R. F. Kuang - Hardcover". HarperCollins. Retrieved 2019-12-27.
  22. ^ "World Fantasy Awards 2019". World Fantasy Convention. Retrieved 2019-07-25.
  23. ^ "The Poppy War". Publishers Weekly. 2018-03-05. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  24. ^ Nam, Michael (2018-05-10). "'The Poppy War' book review: A magical, brutal coming-of-age tale in a medieval Asian fantasy world". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2019-12-27.
  25. ^ Garrott, Lila (2018-08-23). "Lila Garrott Reviews The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang". Locus (magazine). Retrieved 2019-12-27.
  26. ^ Kehe, Jason (2018-10-11). "Why So Many Fantasy Novels Are Obsessed With Academia". Wired (magazine). ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2019-12-27.

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