Kuang’s literary debut is a stunning work that at once cemented the author as essential in the fantasy world. Drawing on the second Sino-Japanese War for the novel's background and updating the trope of the young urchin/hero, Kuang opens the story as Fang Runin is plucked from a life both wretched and obscure to attend a top military academy where she trains in martial arts--as well as mystical ones--to become an elite soldier. When a revolution upends the precarious peacetime, Fang and her cohort are thrust into a bloody and violent war. Kuang does not shy away from the cruel reality of war's devastating effects for those both on and off the battlefield, and this novel is tense, fast-paced, and full of difficult questions about sacrifice and meaning for which there are no easy answers.
The Poppy War, by R F. Kuang