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The Poppy War

Narrated by: Emily Woo Zeller
Series: The Poppy War, Book 1
Length: 18 hrs and 57 mins
4 out of 5 stars (270 ratings)

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Summary

A powerful epic fantasy novel with roots in the 20th-century history of China.

Opium runs through the heart of the Nikara Empire, a constant reminder of the war with the Federation of Mugen that brought it to the empire’s shores. A war that ended only thanks to three heroes - the Vipress, the Dragon Emperor and the Gatekeeper - known as the Trifecta. They were legendary figures, each bestowed with godlike powers, who united the warlords of the Empire against the Federation.

Decades have passed. The Trifecta is shattered; the Dragon Emperor is dead, the Gatekeeper is missing and the Vipress alone sits on the throne at Sinegard. Peace reigns, yet the poppy remains.

War orphan Fang Runin grew up with it. Her adopted family smuggles it throughout the Rooster province, making a living on the misfortune of those addicted to its smoke. But when Rin’s parents force her into an arranged marriage, Rin refuses to accept her fate and fights her way to the prestigious military academy at Sinegard.

There she will learn of drug-fuelled shamanic powers thought to be myth, powers which might defeat the Federation during its third invasion. But the cost of some power is too great to pay, even if it means winning a war that threatens to destroy an entire nation.

©2018 R. F. Kuang (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic reviews

"A blistering, powerful epic of war and revenge that will captivate you to the bitter end." (Kameron Hurley, author of The Stars Are Legion)

"A thrilling, action-packed fantasy of gods and mythology...The ambitious heroine’s rise from poverty to ruthless military commander makes for a gripping read, and I eagerly await the next installment." (Julie C. Dao, author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

 "In The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang draws on history and myth to tell a relentlessly unforgiving story of war, vengeance, power and madness, with larger-than-life characters that evoke sympathy and rouse terror. Brace yourself." (Fonda Lee, award-winning author of The Green Bone Saga)

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A bloody and intense storyline

This novel is incredibly engaging. I found myself desperate to read it as often as I could, because I was involved by the story Kuang has so vividly rendered.
The storyline might seem a bit predictable at first - orphan goes to a special school, discovers 'uncanny' abilities, yadda yadda - but the way in which Kuang delivers this trope-y story made it seem anything but clichéd.

It might sound daft but one of the aspects that pulled me into this story is that Kuang made me believe in Rin and her tumultuous and often hostile world. The many physical and inner conflicts she faces made me deeply weary. I grew increasingly apprehensive. Kuang does not sugar coat the brutality of war and the inevitable horrors brought by such conflicts. Yet, Kuang’s prose could deliver such beautiful and elegant phrases that I could not find anything she wrote distasteful. Her style would often come across as simple but it is this apparent simplicity that makes Kuang’s words all the more effective. There is a raw almost visceral aspect to her writing that makes it hard not to be affected by what she writes of.
The Poppy War offers plenty of action, tense showdowns, constantly shifting power dynamics, and an arresting storyline....

As much as I loved this book there are a few things that I thought could have been “better” or that I hope can be more developed in the next instalments:

✔The way in which Kung depicts a moving body is simply captivating. I was in awe of her descriptions of combat. Even when during these fighting scenes the “eyes” seem to be a bit overdone (everyone seems to have very arresting eyes, especially those who fight well or are shamans).

✔Rin, this girl, this young woman, frustrated the hell out of me. She is a act first, think later, kind of person. Also, you know how some say that there is no such thing as a stupid question? Well, I disagree, because Rin asks a helluva of stupid questions. And the she is ‘stunned’ or suprised by the unfavourable reactions these often insubordinate questions illicit. She enragers her peers, and her superiors, with her words and her obtuseness. Yet, in spite of my not liking her or her attitude, I still cared for her. Especially since she seems to be treated like a piñata by most of the characters.
And yes, I do mean that she is treated as something that should be bashed about. Her mentors are not upfront enough, pushing her to make stupid decisions. Her friends...well, I don’t think that there is one healthy relationship or friendship in this book. The relationships she has verge on or are of an abusive (physical and non) nature. Given the world Rin lives in it’s hardly surprising that this should be the case….still
The path that she takes feels sadly unavoidable. It's refreshing to read about a female character who longs for power....but the damage caused by Rin's newfound thirst for revenge...well...mmmh...there is no coming back from that.

✖A lot of characters tell Rin the classic “you don’t know what I’ve been through” line. I mean, they are all living through a war, so I don’t think Rin should just let others bemoan their own tragedies, especially since before this new explosion of violence, Rin was already an outcast.

✖The few female characters that make an appearance are all very negative depictions of femininity. They are shrill and or unnecessary mean, especially towards - surprise surprise - Rin. They seemed very “flat”. They were either jealous or callous, treating Rin in a cold or aggressive manner. Hopefully new female characters in the following instalments will change this but…

✖I think the novel would have benefited from having a few more descriptions of the characters’ surroundings. I know it is an action focused novel but a more delineated landscape would have made Rin’s world all the more vivid.

Overall, I recommend this very much to both historical and fantasy fans. If you love the trope of the “tragic hero/ine” whose thirst for revenge and power bring about their own destruction...look no further. Rin is an Anakin Skywalker in the makings...

I know quite a lot of people are worried by the “trigger warnings” but this book is never gratuitously violent. The violence depicted is both brutal and necessary, and because of it, we can better understand Rin and those around her.

7 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Strong female lead turns whiny girl

Fantasy with Asian influences and a female lead - loved the first half.

Rin, the protagonist, claims a future other than 'wife'. She fights (literally) to be acknowledged for who she is, not where she comes from. She questions authority, she doesn't complain, she doesn't back down - ever. She's amazing! Until she's not...

About halfway through the book, she has a personality transplant: from awesome heroine, to whiny, teenage girl. The focus of the book also decides to shift, to her commander. He is - of course - handsome, moody and so mysterious, I still don't know what to make of him. Neither does Rin, until she's suddenly, inexplicably in love with him.

The narration didn't help. Emily Woo Zeller has an amazing voice when describing scenery, but every other sentence coming out of Rin's mouth sounded like she was about to burst into tears. Not exactly a compelling female role-model.

This wavering in the middle threw me so completely that by the time Rin got her agency back (the end of the book!), I was done. I'm sorry to say that I wouldn't recommend this title to anyone, bu especially not those looking for strong, female protagonists.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Did not enjoy Emily Woo Zeller's narration.

Starts enjoyably, you build an affinity and love for Rin very quickly and you find yourself rooting for her very quickly. It is well written and has you on the edge of your seat in the early parts of the story. Unfortunately by the end Rin has become a thoroughly unmoral, unbalanced and dislikable character and I found myself not really caring what happened to her, I just wanted to get to the end so it was over. No real balance to the book.

I also found the use of expletives unnecessary at times, everyone loves a good expletive but often they felt out of place and not within keeping with the rest of the text. Some of the graphic scenes are also very uncomfortable, it was not really necessary to go into so much detail, (you will know the part when you get there) less is more at times.

My biggest gripe however was with the narration. Many of her male character voices made me laugh out loud they were so awful, think your Mum doing silly voices for the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk when you were 3. Her female voices become so sqweeky and shill at times I had to turn the volume down until she had stopped, literally nails down a blackboard.

Shame as it started so well.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Magnificent book!

My words. This was a magnificent read (audio). Fantastic storytelling and the layering of each character is superb. Definitely a YA fantasy book you need to read (listen).

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Well that was intense.

Rapid Review
A very intense fantasy that does not pull punches. It is a close examination on the effects of war both national and personal. A new and interesting direction for fantasy. Probably wouldn’t recommend to someone new to fantasy, but would definitely recommend to a fantasy fan who is looking for something different.

Rambling Review
Well this was brave. If nothing else R. F. Kuang has shaken up the fantasy community. The first half of this book seems to be fairly standard, tropy fantasy that I believe most people will enjoy. All good so far. Then war hits. And hits hard.
The violence is pretty bad but I wouldn’t say it is worse than many other fantasy novels. The main difference is with scale. I have listened to fantasies with graphic combat sequences, such as Joe Abercrombie. I have listened to the brutal tactical battles of Brian Staveley. But I don’t think anything has felt more real than the Poppy War. The consequence of war are stripped bare in some ways that can be difficult to read.
One reason for this is the historical parallels with the real world. Feuding War lords, technologically superior nations, hell how many wars have been fought for control of opium. Where many authors create a deep vibrant world by creating fantasy adaptations of real world things, Kuang just directly inserts history, objects, and substances to create a connection with the reader. There are even huge uses of magic where you don’t need to look hard for the real world inspiration.
Another reason for the realism of the Poppy War is that there are no heros. The moral greyscale is blurred to the point where there are times that you don’t want the main character to succeed. Most fantasy conveys a sense of ‘this guys is right’ even if it is just through sentence phrasing. Kuang doesn’t. She lays out decisions, flaws and atrocities and leaves it up to you how to take them.
Sort of leading on from that. The main character, Rin. Hard working, resilient orphan transformed into a merciless rage filled soldier. As said before the start is pretty standard. However, Rin then goes through an intense character change as a result of the people and events around her. I think what Kunag wanted to do was look at how war has an effect at the national and personal level, and what she does with Rin is quite a bold move in my opinion. I will say through-out most of the book I didn’t like Rin. I was always rooting for her to make certain choices and grow as a character. And she did develop, just not always in the way I wanted. This sounds very negative but actually I think it is one of the things that makes this book stand out and makes it great to listen too. It does not do what the reader wants. It goes where it would go. This is basically why I would recommend it to a seasoned fantasy fan. It isn’t an easy book to listen too, but I do think it is one of the best fantasies in my library.

Nattering on Narration
Emily Woo Zeller is a good narrator in my opinion. She embodies Rin well and delivers scenes and emotions well. Some of her character voices are a little shrill and it took me by surprise at times when wearing headphones. Occasionally some of the characters did come across as quite whiny, but I think that was a choice that fitted even though it grated at times. For me the narration helped enforced some of the more intense emotional effects of the circumstances. In short, not my favourite narration, but one that worked well.

Quick aside. At the time of this review I have already finished Book 2 (the Dragon Republic). Some of the things I have said were taking this into account. The themes and characters arcs started in book one are continued and developed really well. I think that the books are better appreciated together and am really looking forward to the final instalment.

Conclusion
This was a hard book to listen to. The strong parallels with real world events made it really hard hitting. Rin has some great development that is taken in some interesting directions that were not necessarily enjoyable, but certainly made it original. I would definitely recommend this to a fantasy fan who is looking for a different take on the genre.

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Great but very dark

So first I thought this was going to shape up like a Hogwarts-esque training camp before some run of the mill battles against the federation. But it gets v nasty and grim on many levels. It was a great story, and I do feel somewhat upbeat at the end, but seriously. Some nasty stuff gets described imo. But definitely feels very original and fresh and different.

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Original

Loved the original storyline, which apparently draws from real chinese history. Didnt always like the protagonist, but the action and magic were cool and the after-battle scenes were amazingly poignant

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Childish, derivative, and annoying.

The writing style is full of childish hyperbole; everything is either achingly beautiful, or worth dying for, or the worst thing to ever happen etc. People don't want to kill themselves over every little thing. That kind of melodrama undermines immersion and reader confidence in the narrator. And the plot is derivative. The first act is just a weaker, more rushed, beat-for-beat copy of the first act of The Name of the Wind, for example.

The voice acting is full of caricature, which is also irritating.

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I was disappointed in the main character

So this book started off really strong then slowly the characters changed becoming more and more pathetic, it got to the point where I didn't particularly like any of them or care about them.

This is also the first book to make me feel physically sick. So congratulations in a way? The level of violence depicted completely changes for one chapter in particular, it didn't fit the rest of the tone of the book and quite frankly didn't add all that much to the plot or the character development, it felt cheap and I felt disgusting for having listening to it.

I'm glad to have finished the book, and have already bought the second so shall give it a listen but I wouldn't readily recommend this to anyone. I think my main problem is it started so, so strong and then by 3/4 it's not bad by itself but as part of the whole book it just doesn't hold up.

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The HunterXHunter of Young Adult

A well narrated adaption of a stunning book. Uses clichés to create false security. Stunning

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  • WongGgn
  • 14-06-18

Something is Missing

The story began very well with much potential but the immaturity, selfishness and short-sightedness of the protagonist made the story at times rather weary. Her amazing memory and exposure to great teachers only shows that vast amount of knowledge and horrific life changing experience does not guarantee an ability to be far-sighted and wise. Towards the end, I was rooting for someone else.

I will have to hope that the second book will bring about a more mature and reflective heroine. Keeping fingers cross

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 30-05-19

The Rape of Nanking meets YA fantasy. What?!

The story has some serious tonal issues, going from light YA fantasy to a brutal and visceral recounting of the Rape of Nanking. The narrator really doesn't help these tonal issues. It sounds like she's reading a story to children and it does NOT work. She's not a bad narrator, just not suitable for this book.
I can't say I'd recommend The Poppy War, regardless of narrator issues. The fantasy element is great. The goal of educating people on historical atrocities is commendable. But the combination feels forced and wrong.
Take out the nauseatingly detailed chapter on what happened in Nanking, and you have a much more balanced story. One that maybe I could recommend.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 16-03-20

Decent fantasy

Sadly book hasn't stood to high expectations after reading reviews. Just another fantasy for teenagers.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Monika Lech
  • 24-02-20

Debiut? Świetny! Ale...



Miałam "The Poppy War" Rebeki F. Kuang w audiotece od dawna, ale nie mogłam się za nią zabrać. Ale w końcu przyszedł czas na wiosenny challenge, czyli 42,2 km i miałam do wyboru albo słuchać o Aleksandrze Wielkim, albo o Pierwszej Wojnie Światowej, albo "Poppy War".
Suspensu nie ma, mój wybór już znacie.

Gdybym miała ocenić tę książkę, dałabym jej 8/10, z czego jeden dodatkowy punkt jest za to, jak została przeczytana.

No dobrze, to co to jest ta "The Poppy War"?

Powieść zaczęła się tak, że zastanawiałam się, czy nie jest przypadkiem w kolejnym "Harrym Potterem", tylko takim osadzonym w scenografiach stylizowanych na wczesny XX wiek w Chinach.
Nie zrozumcie mnie źle, Pottera bardzo lubię. Dzięki cyklowi Rowling udało mi się szybciej odkurzyć francuski (nie pytajcie) i sympatia do tych książek została mi do dzisiaj.
Ale wiecie, o co chodzi, kiedy przywołuję "Harrego"?

Rin, a właściwie Fang Runin, typowy underdog, dzieciak znikąd, trafia dzięki pracy i talentowi do najważniejszej w kraju szkoły oficerskiej. Trafia do zamkniętego środowiska, w którym właściwie tylko ona jest "nikim" i "z nikąd". Resztę, czyli jakieś 2/5 książki, możecie sobie dośpiewać. Praca, praca, praca, jeden przyjaciel, permanentne odrzucenie przez rówieśników i część nauczycieli, w końcu mentor, dzięki któremu coś jej się udaje. I to "coś" to Bog wow. Brzmi znajomo?
Bo jest znajome.

Ta część ma swoje plusy. Przewidywalność jest jednym z nich. Nie, nie ironizuję. Przewidywalność narracji i rozwoju wydarzeń pozwala skupić się na drugiej warstwie książki, tej, w której pojawiają się elementy kultury chińskiej, sztuki wojskowej, polityki oraz sprawa najważniejsza - czyli kwestie religijne związanych z szamanizmem. Warto się nad tymi częściami pochylić i wczytać/wsłuchać się w nie porządnie.

Wracając do książki.

Kiedy radośnie dajemy się ukołysać akcji i zastanawiamy się o czym, jasny gwint, będzie kolejne 12 godzin, wszystko się zmienia. Wybucha wojna i książka staje się jednocześnie ciekawsza i słabsza. To ostatnie wyjaśnię za chwilę.

Najpierw jednak słowo wyjaśnienia: "The Poppy War" nie jest książką YA.

Nie dałabym jej do ręki młodocianym i nieletnim. To brutalna książka, w której przemoc opisywana jest z pewną kliniczną zawziętością. Nie jest to zarzut. Lubię książki, w których brutalność języka i obrazów jest uzasadniona. Prawdę mówiąc, odłożyłabym "The Poppy War" po przebiegnięciu zakładanego wcześniej, wiosennego dystansu, ale coś kazało mi przesłuchać jeszcze godzinkę i bam! Zaczęło się! Brudna, paskudna, obrzydliwa wojna. Odrażająca w swojej potworności i w tym, co wyciąga z ludzi.
Taka jest druga część książki, ostatnie 3/5.

Chętnych do zapoznania się ze szczegółami akcji odsyłam do strony Autorki: tutaj books lub na strony serwisów o książkach.

"The Poppy War" Rebeki F. Kuang, to książka, która słusznie dostaje nagrody i słusznie została uznana za jeden z najlepszych debiutów 2018 roku. To bardzo, ale to bardzo ciekawa pozycja.

Czego w niej nie znajdziecie?

Cukierkowatości i rozwiniętych emocji

Innych niż wściekłość, gniew, złość, zawziętość, chęć zemsty, potrzeba władzy i pogoń za potęgą. Przesadzam, ale nie bardzo.
Runin o wszystko musi walczyć, za wszystko płaci ogromną cenę. Fizyczna i psychiczna presja jest ogromna. Czasem się łamie, zwykle wstaje i idzie dalej. Rebeka F. Kuang nie osładza i nie upiększa także obrazów uzależnienia od opium i innych substancji. Nie idealizuje przyjaźni i emocji w ogóle. W pewnym momencie zastanawiałam się nawet, skąd Rebeka Kuang wytrzasnęła lojalność? Skąd? Gdzie się urodziła i skąd się wzięła?
Nic, tylko bogowie ją zesłali.
Tak, TO była ironia.


Dających się lubić bohaterów

Niestety, jeśli szukacie kogoś, kogo można lubić i za kogo można trzymać kciuki, to nie tu, nie w "The Poppy War" Rebeki F. Kuang. Początkowo myślałam, że to dlatego, że bohaterka jest nastolatką, a ja nią dawno być przestałam, ale z każdą kolejną godziną przekonywałam się, że nie miałam racji, że i ona, i reszta postaci są tak skonstruowane, że ich po prostu nie mogę polubić.
Przez to akcja stawała się coraz bardziej… opresyjna. Jakby książka wciskała mnie w glebę, głębiej i głębiej.

Taki zabieg ma swoje plusy, bo w końcu w obliczu wojny, rzezi i ludobójstwa trudno kogoś lubić, prawda? Zwłaszcza kogoś, kto walczy i zabija. Wojna zmienia. Jeśli jesteś upartą, zapalczywą osobą, która słucha, ale nie słyszy, która chce pokazać, że jest kimś i zemścić się na całym świecie, to co z ciebie zrobi wojna?
No właśnie.
Runin, główna bohaterka "The Poppy war", w kategorii "dająca się lubić" nie wypada ani lepiej, ani gorzej od pozostałych postaci zaludniających świat stworzony przez Rebekę F. Kuang
Gdybym miała stawiać czoła trudnym sytuacjom w życiu ze stworzonymi przez nią postaciami, wolałabym, jasny gwint, fajeczkę.

Innowacyjności w potraktowaniu warstwy "historycznej"

Rebeka F. Kuang po prostu przeniosła do książki to, co zdarzyło się w Azji w czasie wojny chińsko-japońskiej. Wszystkie te rzezie, gwałty i potworności. Przeniosła także język, jakim Chińczycy opisywali Japończyków. Miałam wrażenie, jakby autorka władała w książkę całą swoją wiedzę historyczną, jaką nabyła w szkole, plus określenia, które zdobywaniu tejże wiedzy towarzyszyły. Rasa, która w "The Poppy War" jest odpowiednikiem Japończyków to potwory, po prostu i zwyczajnie potworzy i tak jest opisywana. Nie ma nic, co by ten obraz rozbijało. Są jak orkowie. Tępi mordercy, wielbiący przemoc i zadawanie bólu. Powiedzmy to sobie jasno - tak właśnie Mugen przestawiła Autorka. Owszem, pod koniec pojawia się nieśmiała sugestia, że nie wszyscy byli źli, ale jednak… niebywale mnie to drażniło.
Nie, nie bronię gwałtów i rzezi, ani osób, które je popełniają. Nie szukam usprawiedliwienia dla zbrodni wojennych. Po prostu uwiera mnie taka bezrefleksyjna transkrypcja historii.

Magii w rozumieniu "machnę różdżką i wypowiem zaklęcie"

Tego nie ma. Magia jest, ale potężniejsza i bardziej niebezpieczna niż to, na co bohaterka i czytelnicy/słuchacze są przygotowani. Magia jest bowiem potężna, przenika wszystko, daje wiele, ale pożera i pochłania wszystko. A bogowie, których rodacy Runin relegowali z ich codzienności, okazują się… nieludzcy w pełnym tego słowa znaczeniu. Nie "nieludzcy" w znaczeniu "potworni", choć to także, ale po prostu… ich motywacje są niemożliwe do zrozumienia, ich pomoc bywa gorsza niż ich obojętność, a ich zaangażowanie kończy się katastrofalnie.

Polecam "The Poppy War" Rebeki F. Kuang? Tak, polecam. Jeśli macie ochotę na coś, co jest świetnie napisaną gorzką pigułką - zachęcam. Słuchało mi się tej książki doskonale, co nie znaczy, że przyjemnie.

Na pytanie, czy sięgnę po kolejne części, odpowiadam: nie wiem. Nie jestem pewna. Lubię lubić bohaterów książek, które czytam.

www.veryurbanfantasy.pl

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-02-20

Mixed feelings about this one.

It has potential but I really hope book 2 is DIFFERENT.

I like grim-dark but this book is almost only pain and misery from beginning to end. Do we really have to spend so long time explaining how baby's are killed and pregnant women are raped and then killed... It is so much intense violence and feeling of hopelessness on and on, that you become numb to it. The story is ok, but way to often I was wishing the story would just move on, instead of spending all this time describing how corpses is arranged.

the story is ok, the characters are ok and the plot is good, but it's hidden under mountains of monotone descriptions of misery.

Ps. the reader is excellent during the entire story.

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  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Sigríður
  • 19-12-19

Very brutal but well written

It’s a different story than one usually finds, very refreshing to have an oriental angle.

The story is very brutal though, war crimes and atrocities are described, and even if many have occurred in real life, they make for a very dark story.

The main character has life altering decisions to make, and the reader is left with the moral question of whether she chose the wrong path or the only viable path.

I’m interested to listen to the next book, but I have to wait a few weeks just to adjust and digest the first book.

I think I might have given it 5 stars as the book is really excellent in many ways, but the brutality, war crimes, hatred and complete disregard for others leaves me with a stone in my gut and so it’s a personal choice to not give it a full score. It reflects that I will not pick it up again at a later date, something I will, and have done with the books I give 5 stars.