Book Review – The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang


Goodreads Synopsis:

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.


So this is yet another very delayed review from #readtheworldathon – this time for the ‘Celebrate WOC’ square. I’d owned this for ages, having actually received it as an ARC but I forgot all about it until suddenly I started seeing hype for it everywhere and knew I had to read it.

This book can be split into several parts and so just when you think you know what’s going on, things take an unexpected turn and suddenly it’s a completely different novel. I adored this book for a multitude of reasons and it’s hard to narrow it down.

Firstly, this book is incredibly heavily inspired by Chinese history and culture which makes the world so rich and interesting. Some of the events are inspired by real events (I won’t say what because of spoilers, but suffice to say that a lot of the “bad” things that happen are based on real events) but as well as big things like that, it was also nice spotting the much smaller references. For example, the Keju is clearly inspired by the Gaokao and then there are throwaway remarks such as warning Rin to be careful of ‘gutter oil’. There’s probably way more references that also completely flew over my head due to my lack of in-depth knowledge about China and I definitely think I’m going to want to read this again to try and spot as many as I can.

The novel starts off with Rin at her academy and I’m a huge fan of novels that involve studying (I love school) so the setting appealed to me straight away. We don’t stay at the school for the entire novel, but the other settings are just as interesting. The characters are all very interesting too and it’s really rewarding to watch Rin evolve as a person throughout the novel.

There’s a lot I could say about this book, but I’m aware of the levels of hype surrounding it and I want to avoid saying too much because of potential spoilers. All I’ll say is that I highly, highly recommend it and have been recommending it to a lot of people. Indeed, the only people I wouldn’t recommend this to are those that don’t enjoy books with a lot of violence.


Book Review – The Half Killed by Quenby Olson


Goodreads Synopsis:

Dorothea Hawes has no wish to renew contact with what lies beyond the veil. After an attempt to take her own life, she has retired into seclusion, but as the wounds on her body heal, she is drawn back into a world she wants nothing more than to avoid.

She is sought out by Julian Chissick, a former man of God who wants her help in discovering who is behind the gruesome murder of a young woman. But the manner of death is all too familiar to Dorothea, and she begins to fear that something even more terrible is about to unleash itself on London. 

And so Dorothea risks her life and her sanity in order to save people who are oblivious to the threat that hovers over them. It is a task that forces her into a confrontation with her own lurid past, and tests her ability to shape events frighteningly beyond her control.


I started reading this months ago but put it down as I didn’t really get into it. I recently remembered about it so gave it another go and ended up really enjoying it. It’s a bit slow to start and I wasn’t sure if I enjoyed it at first as it’s a slow build up but once I got further in I was hooked and couldn’t put it down.

The plot revolves around finding the cause of a mysterious murder which is supernatural in origin. The main character, Thea, can hear the dead and so Chissick, a detective, has asked for her aid knowing that she can help more than anybody else. The pacing is quite slow which might not appeal to everybody, but it worked really well for this novel as the slow pace allowed the creepy factor and a general sense of unease to build while reading. We don’t know what the cause is, but we don’t like it and you start to dread to moment when we’ll face whatever entity is causing this.

The book is very well written and I love the interactions between the characters. The setting of Victorian London works really well and if I didn’t know better, I could easily believe this was a genuine Victorian novel.

I would recommend this book to anybody that is a fan of Victorian literature, and to anybody who enjoys the subgenre “Fantasy of Manners”. It’s also fantastic for those who want a nice slow and immersive read – this is definitely the kind of book I’d enjoy reading while curled up in front of a fire.

Book Review- A Russian Doll and Other Stories by Adolfo Bioy Casares


Goodreads Synopsis:

This collection of traditional and experimental stories by Argentinian novelist Bioy Casares ( The Adventures of a Photographer in La Plata ) offers sophisticated, seamless prose, as well as magical realism and biting political satire. His characters are motivated by lust, avarice and vanity but elicit sympathy because of their vulnerability. In the title story, a fortune hunter joins an ecological expedition in pursuit of a millionaire’s daughter; but the father is swallowed by an enormous pollution-feeding caterpillar, and when the daughter takes over her father’s factory, she renounces her former ecological stance. In another story, a notary public recovering from hepatitis stays near a lake and meets Doctor Salmon’s niece, who asks him to prove his love for her by letting her uncle transform them both into fish. Many of the stories are fantasies, often centering on shocking events–an actor is shot by supporters of a dictatorship for playing a republican who cries, “Oh liberty!” and an angelic-looking girl breakfasts on her parents after being given an appetite stimulant. Throughout Casares surprises and entertains in these suspenseful stories.


Here is another of my #readtheworldathon books, this time for the square located furthest away from me. I’d already read The Invention of Morel and adored it so figured a collection of Casares short stories would be a perfect choice.

What I love about Casares is that his stories are just so strange and full of surprises. It’s hard to describe really, but the stories are full of magic and creativeness. They don’t quite live up to The Invention of Morel but were still a very enjoyable read. I won’t say too much about the stories themselves as that would risk giving away some of the twists.

Overall though, this was a fantastic collection for those wanting to read more magical realism stories. I would recommend this, however if you’ve not read Casares then I would first direct you to The Invention of Morel which is a brilliant novella and then, if you enjoyed that, you can come enjoy these stories too.

Book Review – Stranger Tales of the City ed. by Elizabeth Evershed


Goodreads Synopsis:

The knights hospitaller have just woken to a second life in a City the size of a galaxy. 

Two strangers from a far-distant future are flung together on Resurrection Day. 

A window-seller visits a claustrophobic suburb and finds it full of mystery. 

A Remake gunslinger seeks a new role from the one he was always meant to play… 

In this, the sixth anthology in the City of the Saved series, we meet a host of human and not-so-human characters getting to grips with life in the afterlife: alien adoptees with no previous experience of human cultures; Citizens permanently missing and not merely misplaced; priestesses of long-forgotten religions; posthumans with their own baffling version of the Civil Tongue; a viral strain of humankind that has never known community… 

The City is full of strangers and these are their tales.


This is the sixth book in the City of the Saved series which is based on the premise that “Everybody has died and woken up together in a huge city”. The short stories all feature different characters and how they deal with their new life. It’s a fantastic setting which gives a lot of freedom to the authors which is definitely shown in this collection where all the stories are very different from each other.

Now, I may be slightly biased here because my partner is one of the authors featured here (his is the story about a window seller in suburbia) however even without his story I still loved this collection. The stories were all so varied and dealt with a variety of themes.

The stories themselves are all linked by a frame tale featuring the Knights Hospitallers which I really enjoyed, and I loved the majority of the tales. Ironically, the one I enjoyed least was all about language (which, for those that know me, is very odd given how much I love studying languages and linguistics).

Despite not having read any of the previous books, I still found this very accessible. The only issue I had was understanding what a ‘remake’ was since they appear in several stories (one focusing heavily on them) but I was able to get enough information from context to understand the story.

I would definitely recommend this collection of short stories to Sci-Fi fans, although I need to point out that it’s not available on Amazon and you have to go straight to the publisher if you want an ebook which seems a bit of a strange marketing decision (and unfortunately means I won’t be buying any other books in the series as I make my purchases using Amazon Giftcards to control my spending on books)