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review 2019-07-14 01:14
The Poppy War
The Poppy War - R. F Kuang

This book... This book disappointed me. Part of it was high expectations. I know several people, whose opinions I trust, who loved this book. I was also looking forward to reading a fantasy inspired by Chinese history. I was excited about this one. So yeah, disappointment is certainly a factor here.


What I expected was something really fresh and new. So imagine my surprise when this book is trope after trope. You could play trope bingo with this one pretty successfully. It's also got some serious Harry Potter vibes early on. And some pretty significant anime vibes too. (The whole school yard to war thing. The gang of superpowered misfits in a rogue branch of the army. Summoning Suzaku...err...I mean the Phoenix.) It doesn't feel original in the slightest, and when so much of the book is also directly lifted from history there's not much left to stand out as creatively unique. That's not in and of itself damning, but it did take me by surprise.


However, what surprised me most are the undercurrents of strong anti-Japanese sentiment. You could make an argument that this is authorial voice. And honestly I'd be open to hearing compelling evidence supporting that stance. Unfortunately, I'm trained to read closely (blame my degree), and even if I could overlook the way this book ends (which I can't), or the way the Japanese are portrayed (again, hard to do), even word choices raised red flags. I get it: this is based off a point in time that is a very dark and ugly stain on Japanese history. Not disputing that in the least. It's abhorrent. But the way this is written is very uncomfortable in ways I'm not sure are intended. (And if they are intended, oh lordy is that even worse.) And then there is the entire issue of the way the Speerly people are written, which is a whole other can of worms (really problematic as well). It makes me deeply suspicious of the book and breaks all my trust in the author.


I might *maybe* have been able to overlook the tropes, and the uncomfortable undercurrents. Maybe. Possibly. But I had so many other little issues along the way as well. I couldn't stand the main character, Rin. I found her lack of growth frustrating and continued blunders repetitive. I thought the book was overwritten and far too long. Or perhaps, more compellingly, three books shoehorned awkwardly into one as the tone shifts were so jarring. And then there's the fact that the book seems totally onboard with abusive relationships. (Example: the glorification of an emotionally & physically abusive character, complete with the main character saying, "Who would I be without (them)?" Fucking gross.) And there's also the atrocity fatigue where it gets to the point where the author seems more intent on giving you a full litany of grotesqueries than crafting a scene that actually makes you feel something. I could probably go on. But really this book died a death of a thousand cuts for me. The longer I read it the less I liked it, and when I reached the end I was genuinely pissed off I had stuck it out. Especially given the way the book ended.


Look, here's the thing, these things aren't going to bother everyone. Some people are just going to be excited to be reading a more diverse book. And that's fine. We need more books written about other cultures by non-white authors. Lots more. Many many more. It makes it difficult to judge a book harshly when it represents an underserved minority of voices. I get that. That said, I don't think this is a good book. It needed more editing, and the author needs more time to hone their craft. Maybe I'll try Kuang again sometime down the road, but not for this trilogy.

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review 2019-06-15 20:06
I read the Futura 1990 edition.
The Face That Must Die - Ramsey Campbell,Poppy Z. Brite,J.K. Potter
The story is told mostly through the perspective of an odious and most likely paranoid schizophrenic called Horridge. This entirely unpleasant man is hate-filled, self-aggrandising, homophobic and racist. He even has a limp and at times feels almost a Dickensian caricature. But the book doesn't let the reader off that easily. We are trapped in the mire of Horridge's psyche and even when we escape for brief respites we see echoes of similar paranoia in the fear or drug-heightened senses of others.
After reading Campbell's moving introduction it is unsurprising that the author has such a drive to explore various expressions of paranoia, looking in turn at how it can cripple or aid us. A powerful read, but not a pleasant one.
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review 2019-04-12 03:58
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang - My Thoughts
The Poppy War - R. F Kuang

Well.  This book was touted as one of the best of 2018 and it is nominated for a 2018 Nebula award for best novel.  I didn't like it as much as the majority of people seem to have.  I have read 5 of the 6 nominees and this was my least favourite of them. (Spinning Silver is the one I've not read.)

First off, let me say that the book is well-written read for all that.

My problem lies with expecting to see something new and different, but all I really saw were the same fantasy tropes that have been around forever.  The orphan child with the mysterious background.  The Chosen One.  Hidden magical powers. Gods run amok.  I think the only thing that was was even remotely new was that the book is set in an alternate historical China, or that's what I felt it was.  I was disappointed, and even though, like I said, the writing was good, I found that disappointment colouring my read.

My other problem was with the protagonist, Rin, the orphaned peasant girl with the dark skin. This is her story, but I felt that things were just happening to her.  I don't know that I felt her grow from her somewhat naive 16 years of age at the beginning of the book to her beaten, tortured, suffering (according to her words near the end of the book), 19 year old self.  I was told that she did, but I never FELT it.  At one point, she's yelling at one of her close friends, crying out that she's suffered fro so long, been beaten and tortured and betrayed and near killed etc... so she deserved getting her revenge, and I thought... but were you really?  I was told she did, but....  I dunno, she never really came alive for me. 

And you know, this book is rather grim-darkish.  It's not promoted as such, but I think it really is. In the last third of the book, things get very violent and dark and at times just downright horrific.

So, anyway, I really didn't get what all the big excitement was about.  Will I read the second book that's due out this summer?  Probably, but I'm not in any rush

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review 2019-02-02 17:34
An exploration of death
Exquisite Corpse - Poppy Z. Brite
This book is hardcore in terms of violence and lust. The only comparable books I have read, ones as graphic and disturbing with vivid descriptions of dismemberment, disembowelment and bodily waste would be 
Frisk, by Dennis Cooper and In the Miso Soup, by Ryu Murakami.
Exquisite Corpse is told in first and third person. The first person narrator is Andrew Compton, a British serial killer who escapes prison by faking death. How he manages this is somewhat vague, magical and shamanistic, but we expect some suspension of disbelief in fiction, and this isn't too much of a stretch.
In this way the narrative and plot reflect each other as Exquisite Corpse is an exploration of death both of the narrator's own self and of others. Not only the violent murders that follow prolonged torture, lovingly described, but also more subtle and normal deaths. Death by disease - the AIDS epidemic has badly hit the French Quarter of New Orleans, and the deaths of relationships - familial and lovers, represented by Tran, the exquisite corpse of the title.
A lot happens in the story. Yes, it is shocking and grotesque, but it is also poignant and sad. Exquisite Corpse is by far the best book by Poppy Z Brite that I have read so far.
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review 2019-01-26 02:32
Liked it but not as much as other readers.
The Poppy War - R. F Kuang

I thought the book was pretty good. I loved the world building and the History of the past wars. But I didn't really care about any of the characters. Rin drove me nuts, I felt like she rushed into a lot of things, without thinking things through first. I know people would say its because she's young. But I don't think that was the case, at least for things she does later in the book. 

I really didn't like Altan either, and I wonder why Rin acted the way she did around him. There are a lot of trigger Warnings in this book, rape, torture, self harm, to name a few. 

I did like it enough that I do want to read the next one, that comes out in August. Especially after how the book ended. 

I would recommend this book, but look into all the other trigger warnings, that I didn't mention above, because there's definitely a lot more than what I did list.

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