Rin grew up in the village of Tikany, in the south of Nikara. At the age of 14, her foster parents
threaten to marry her off, and she knows she must escape her future. When she attempts and aces
the Keju (the national college entrance exam), being a poor girl from a relatively unknown
province, it shocks everyone. Now, attending Sinegard, the nation's top military school, she
attempts to prove herself amidst discrimination and mistreatment. But, Rin later learns that she
has an affinity for shamanism, and when she cultivates this gift, she can be dangerous. Across the
sea, the Federation of Murgen is preparing something. As Rin connects with her chosen God, the
Phoenix, and the prospect of a third Poppy War between Nikan and Murgen increases, Rin must
learn to do what it takes to save her people.
Honestly, I couldn’t believe this was a debut novel! It’s easily one of the best
historical-fantasy-thrillers I’ve ever read. The worldbuilding was amazing, and nothing felt
“unfinished.” I LOVE Fang Runin as a character. She feels realistic, without being unnecessarily
perfect or moralistic. She makes mistakes and is morally-grey. In addition, the other characters,
like Nezha, Jiang, and Altan were complex and well-constructed. Right about when I got to the
middle of this book, I could tell it was about the atrocities of war, inspired by the real
Sino-Japanese war. Poppy (which symbolized opium) also played a significant role. The plot and
pacing were also great, and there was no moment in this book where I wasn’t at the edge of my
seat. Overall, while this book was a bit hard to digest due to the dark themes it dealt with, the
author did an extremely good job with it. 5/5. Props to R.F. Kuang.
The book was unflinching in its mention of war crimes however, so I would advise younger or
sensitive readers to exercise caution.
TW: war scenes, death, drug addiction, racism, self-harm, rape, torture