The Poppy War Series Part the First

Hey, all. So, obviously this series has been talked about…A LOT. It was also announced the rights to adapt this series for TV! I’ve really been wanting to read them especially when some of my favorite BookTubers shared their thoughts and stunning Illumicrate editions. I was even more excited when I found out that the author was a scholar who had focused on Asian studies at several excellent institutions. I also recently saw an excellent post by one of my faves, ReadbyTiffany, who has a very through Know Before Reading post which explains everything much better than I could as she has had the chance to speak with and interview Rebecca Kuang. She provides the historical context I mentioned briefly in my unboxing, but includes elements I hadn’t known about as well. There’s also some great literary analysis of how certain characters are paralleled by real figures, the context of ethnic diversity, other cultural explanations, and what reading this meant to her personally as a Tiwanese-American. Despite my own extensive studies in Asian history, this is a case where I feel I am not the best source and should direct you to someone I trust and let their voice be heard instead. She also includes a link of her interview with the author. The button below will take you to that post, which I highly encourage reading if you’re considering picking up this series or have questions on the series. She has also mentioned a lot of plagiarism issues related to her work on this, so credit where credit is due. Tiffany did an amazing job with her post. Sidenote: I am totally jealous of how lovely and aesthetic her blog is! #goals

(Yes, I feel it that important that I’m not setting it at the bottom as usual. Read it. Be aware of this book’s importance.)

What I loved most is the acknowledgement of how you could read the book different ways. I definitely feel that I would definitely be in the later, looking at how it approaches very key issues in the history it covers.

I also approach this knowing this book isn’t about Being Here For a Good Time. There are true horrors which will be covered and I know that it is something I may struggle with. I am seeing several warnings which I know can get to me depending on how it it approached. Even though I know that so many people have loved this series, I have no illusions that it may not be for me and with that in mind, I am not going to be including a rating in my discussions of these books. I feel the history it covers and the impact it has had in the Asian community is far too important to attach a number to, and that doing so in the event where I find it difficult to get through due to my own sensitivities would be incredibly damaging and is a reason these types of books can struggle. I will do my best to explain what I like about the story and how I feel about the approach to the topics without critiquing it merely for containing things that aren’t for a fun read. I am reading this series because it approaches the field I love from a well-informed point and it covers a time period which still has a lasting impact in very real ways.

It is included in Tiffany’s post, but I definitely want to reiterate if you’re considering picking it up, this book contains sensitive content.

To quote Tiffany:

If you’re looking for a book with romance and a happy ending, this isn’t it. I would actually discourage you from reading this book because you’re better off picking up something else. At its core, The Poppy War trilogy is an unfiltered look at the brutality of violence war and how its aftermath leaves a lasting effect on generations. 

ReadbyTiffany, “Everything You Need to Know Before Reading the Poppy War by R. F. Kuang”, ReadbyTiffany: A Literary and Lifestyle Blog. Nov. 15, 2020.

That being said, she included the following warnings to consider before reading:

CONTENT WARNING: WAR, DRUG USE/ADDICITION, SELF-HARM, RACISM, MISOGYNY, GENOCIDE, BULLYING, ABANDONMENT, ABUSE, ANIMAL DEATH & CRUELTY, TORTURE, MURDER (CHILD AND ADULT), RAPE, MUTILATION, HUMAN EXPERIMENTATION

In fact, part of the reason why I was reluctant to buy the book is because I knew it centered on war and might not be for me. I decided that there was something about it that made me want to read it physically, so I bought just the first book, telling myself if it’s not to my taste, better to just have the one paperback instead of the full series and I could always order the others if I liked the first. Y’know, like sane, rational people should do. Over time, I have wondered if perhaps this would be suited for a spotlight project and reading vlog. I’m concerned that if I wait to buy each when I confirm I can handle and/or enjoy the previous book, this project could take too long and I’m already very much behind the times. I’d also want to keep the whole series in the same format and we’ll be waiting until the end of 2021 to get The Burning God in paperback. That’s just so long when I’ve already had to push this back so much.

I did end up vlogging while reading TPW. I somehow managed to not realize one of those was That One Chapter where the majority of the worst of the war crimes are described. I definitely agree with the trigger warnings mentioned. I will say that for the first part, I was very much enjoying the book. It is incredibly well-written and the world is so fascinating. Something I anticipated happening in part two happened, but it ended up being very different from what I expected. I had been rooting for them, but it got very warped. Once the Third Poppy War begins, it did get tougher to read. It’s hard to say if I “enjoyed” the book. I thought it was very well-written, but I’m very concerned by the direction it’s taken. I’ve decided to continue the series, but it’s one of those odd books I don’t know how to relate to. I stand by the assessment where it’s not a Here for a Good Time read. I’m curious where The Dragon Republic will take us. I’ve made an order and hopefully it’ll arrive soon to continue the blog/vlog. Ugh, that vlog is gonna be such a hassle to edit. I really need to find a better method. (My main issue being limited functionality like the lack of section audio editing or captioning.)

Most of all, this book got me very interested in Tiwanese history and culture. Both of my Chinese language teachers in undergrad were from Tiwan, but I haven’t heard much about it apart from Taipei being gorgeous. Sadly, Tiwan frequently gets overlooked by “larger” and “powerful” nations like Korea, China, and Japan when we study Asian history. Even with my Master’s, I don’t think it’s ever been included in my coursework. It’s quite sad.

You can see my actual reactions in the vlog, even if they might not be as coherent as I like.

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