Publisher: Harper Voyage
Published: May 1st 2018
Read as: Audio (Audible download)
Average Goodreads rating: 4.12
My rating: 4
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
“If there is a divine creator, some ultimate moral authority, then why do bad things happen to good people? And why would this deity create people at all, since people are such imperfect beings?”
This book was not what I expected. Because of that, I have waffled back and forth on my overall opinions of the story. It is so difficult to write a review when you are having trouble even coming to terms with a book in your head but I promise to do my best. I promised you all honesty when I started Literary Weaponry and I will try to articulate my thoughts as best as I can because, lets face it, this book is a complex work of art.
I’ll begin by saying that this book is unlike anything else I have ever read. When I first chose to read it I really wasn’t all that sure what I was getting myself into. Reviews have been all over the board but a group of folks I trust were raving about it so I downloaded the audiobook from Audible and dove in. Admittedly, the 19 hour run time was a little intimidating but I wasn’t about to let that stop me.
First off, something I loved so much about this book was how real it felt. I don’t mean that it felt like the modern day or something I could pull from my every day life. No, it was something much more rare. As I was reading this book I felt as if the story itself, the world it was based in, and the people held within it were as real as you or me. As much as I read that is still something you stumble onto so rarely. It was as if I was standing beside of Rin, with her through her hardships, and could feel the pain that she felt. Rin felt so, so much pain.
Being a fully realized world, this book had a staggering amount of detail. There were no fuzzy edges as you read. No wondering what was going on off over in the distance, or over the history of something. This world had a full mythological, spiritual, martial, and religious history. There were prejudices, language barriers, and even historical records altered by the ruling class to shape history they way they wanted it. Despite all of these carefully crafted details, the story never felt weighed down by it. Each piece of the puzzle was presented in a natural way, cohesive to the overall flow, to never give the reader the dreaded info dump. I cannot begin to tell you how impressed I was by the authors overall writing skill.
Something else was going on in this book that made it feel so much more different than most anything else I have read before. On top of all of the intricate world building was the story itself. The book covers, I believe, around three years of Rin’s life once she reaches the capitol city to study at the military academy. We watch her grow from an abused girl to strong and sure young woman. Her strength, perseverance, and determination are all admirably traits but they come at a cost. I feel like that cost is a little slice of Rin’s sanity. That is a personal feeling and not something confirmed in the book itself.
*THIS SECTION MAY CONTAIN TRIGGERING CONTENT* Kuang also did not hold back in relation to the devastating effects of war. We’ve all read books where big battles happen etc etc and people die, areas are destroyed, and the shape of the world itself it changed. However, Kuang takes it farther. In so many stories set in a fantasy world, war is used to further the plot or perhaps give more insight into a main character. It never goes too far or oversteps boundaries. Kuang ignored those boundaries and wrote the story she wanted to write. There is devastating drug use and the effect a drug addled group can have on a population as a whole, horribly violent rape, violence against women and children in the most brutal ways imaginable (this part was the hardest for me to get through), psychological warfare, and the utter destruction war can have. Streets paved in rotting corpses, rivers running red with blood and bloated bodies, and human experimentation that reminded me very much of what the Nazis did to fellow humans in the name of furthering scientific discovery. I mentioned it before but it bares being brought up again, through these details, no matter how gruesome, it made the story feel real instead of just words on a page. *END OF TRIGGERING CONTENT WARNING*
Overall this book was a fantastic read with an intricate story, dynamic characters, and scenes that I have never stumbled across in a fantasy novel before. Every scene was brought to life through magnificent story telling. That being said, it is not the book for everyone. Some of the content I mentioned in the above paragraph is very unsettling and I could easily see it polarizing some readers. If I have all of these nice things to say you may be wondering why I only gave the story 4/5 instead of 5/5. The truth of the matter is that the story is relatively slow moving. Sure, the book covers a fairly lengthy time span but that doesn’t mean that the story itself is moving at that pace, it just covers that amount of time. I am a reader that is easily distracted and it was easy for me to set this aside for a day or two at time, I didn’t feel that need to jump back in and continue reading every spare moment. So, I do recommend this book but be aware of some of the content before jumping in.