“Children ceased to be children when you put a sword in their hands. When you taught them to fight a war, then you armed them and put them on the front lines, they were not children anymore. They were soldiers.” – The Poppy War

In the Nikara Empire, everything is determined by the Keju. Every Nikaran citizen takes the empire-wide test when they reach the required age, and a person’s scores determine the entire course of their life. Those who score low have little to look forward to except a life of toil in the fields that feed the Empire. Those who score highly can hope for a position in the government, something guaranteed to secure lifelong prosperity, while the very highest scorers are trained at Sinegard, the Empire’s most elite military academy. The knowledge and understanding required for a high Keju score are obscure and often difficult to master, causing a profoundly biased system. Lord’s sons can afford to spend every day of their lives studying for the test under incredibly expensive tutors, while peasant farmers cannot.

As an orphan adopted by a poor peasant family in Rooster Province, Rin knows that her chances of passing the Keju are slim. But when faced with the prospect of an arranged marriage, Rin realizes that her only hope to escape Rooster Province is to earn a higher Keju score than she could have ever thought possible. With little time to prepare, Rin sacrifices sleep to study for the Keju every night. It surprises no one more than her when Rin receives the highest Keju score in her village, earning a place at Sinegard. Unfortunately the academy is far from a dream come true. Surrounded by students who have studied their entire lives for a chance at the academy, Rin is discriminated against for her gender, ethnicity, and poverty. Rin seeks comfort in the teachings of the one of the most reclusive masters at the academy, one who other students shun. There she learns the near mythical art of shamanism, unlocking powerful abilities she never knew she had. But was is on the horizon, and Rin’s dangerous new abilities may soon be the only hope for an empire she is not entirely sure she wants to protect.

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In many ways, The Poppy War is a powerful testimony to many of the issues that people face in the modern world. From Rin’s initial struggles with access to education and classicism in her rural village, to the xenophobia she faces at Sinegard, to the horrors of war she must confront both in her nation’s past and in its future, The Poppy War forces readers to question the assumptions they make about themselves and others. All told, the book certainly makes for a stunning debut and an inspiring beginning to a new trilogy. A sequel, titled The Dragon Republic, will be released on July 22nd 2019.

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