The Poppy War Series: Overview, Characters, Gripping Plotlines, and More

The stories in Chinese mythology, culture, and history inspired the critically acclaimed fantasy series “The Poppy War” by R. F. Kuang. It features a strong female heroine who carves her way to power from a humble background during difficult wartime. By choice and influences from allies and enemies, she navigates not only the politics of war but also the world of magic that will determine the fate of her country and life.

Another interesting fact about The Poppy War is that the places depicted in the story are unmistakably China, Japan, and Europe but in other names. Many of the events were inspired by the fall of Qing’s Dynasty in the 20th century, marking the end of imperial rulers believed to be descendants of heaven.


An orphan named Fang “Rin” Runin from Rooster Province in the Nikan Empire is the trilogy’s heroine. While honing her military skills at the Sinegard Academy, Rin learns she possesses shamanism talent, which grants her the power to be conduits for the gods. Throughout her exploits in the battlefield, she eventually understands that such ability comes at a significant cost. She must deal with hard choices before her journey ends.

It is quite difficult to fully explain how books can probably change your way of thinking and force you to entertain some other ideas not explicitly written. That said, the brief summaries below should help glimpse what each book offers:
  • Book 1 – The Poppy War: A previous war orphaned Rin now living under her foster parents. It is a tough time for everyone, forcing the family to smuggle opium just to make ends meet. It turns out the opium crisis in the Nikan Empire is facilitated by an old enemy: The Federation of Mugen. Facing a dire prospect of an arranged marriage, Rin makes her way to escape the predicament by applying for admission into the Sinegard Academy, a prestigious military academy filled with the empire’s best talents. She excels at the examination and begins her life as a soldier. All the bullying and discrimination never stop Rin from pursuing her dreams.
  • Book 2 – The Dragon Republic: atrocities of the previous war linger on Rin’s mind. However, brutality is a necessity in a war, for the sake of the empire. The Dragon Warlord has plans to rebuild and reform the old crumbling empire into a democratic republic. Rin, who seeks redemption, agrees to fight yet another war for the Dragon Warlord. She will do everything all over again in the name of freedom and salvation. But wartime politics might not be as honorable as Rin has in mind.
  • Book 3 – The Burning God: Betrayal is all around and allies turn into enemies. Rin’s country is under attack by the blonde-haired Hesperians. Now that Rin is regarded as a goddess by the masses, she is determined to lead the people to battle against the invaders and have their revenge on traitorous authority. Meanwhile, the Phoenix God inside her mind is trying to lure her into the dark path of violence, blood, and fire.


The main characters that drive the plotline are:

  • Fang “Rin” Runin: A formidable warrior of the Dragon Republic, she never fails to display decisiveness and determination to achieve her objective, often without considering what sacrifices she has to make. As the war rages on, Rin becomes increasingly powerful and addicted to fighting on the battlefield.
  • Yin Nezha: At Sinegard Academy, everybody knows Nezha and Rin are never meant to be in the same place together as they often engage in conflict. The rivalry between these two bright students continues throughout the plotline. They even almost kill each other during a Combat Tournament at the academy. Despite the awkward start, the two develop romantic feelings for each other.
  • Jiang Ziya: a Master at Sinegard Academy, but some other teachers have no respect for Jiang. Although Rin thinks of Jiang Ziya as a coward for his fear of the gods, he often steps up and offers useful guidance.
  • Chen Kitay: one of Rin’s closest friends, but their good relationship becomes strained because of different views on moral values.
  • Altan Trengsin: the Commander of the secret assassins’ guild known as the Cike. All members of the guild are powerful individuals with the ability to summon the gods.
  • Sring Venka: A loyal ally to Rin and a ferocious soldier, Venka is brutally honest. They are two of the very few female students at Sinegard.

We think The Poppy War series is both complex and compelling with a blend of Chinese culture, intense action, and unique memorable characters. The world depicted in the story feels fresh in the fantasy genre, whereas the magic elements keep fascination although not entirely original. Many parts of the story can be unrelentingly brutal and horrifically violent as the characters tackle the tragedy of war, sexual assault, famine, racism, and colonialism.

Have you finished The Poppy War series or any book in the trilogy? Do you know any other fantasy novel inspired by Chinese culture? We’d love to hear from you.

Other things you might want to know:

Apart from The Poppy War series, R. F. Kuang has written two other novels:

  • Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence (2022)
  • Yellowface (2023)

Kuang’s upcoming novel is “Katabasis”

Have they have adapted the series to TV?

The Poppy War series will have its own screen adaptation, produced by Starlight Media, a company that has previously backed Midway and Crazy Rich Asians. It is still in early stages and words remain scarce about production, let alone release date.

Awards for The Poppy War series:

The Poppy War made its way to be the finalist for various prestigious awards including World Fantasy Award, Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and Nebula Award for Best Novel in 2018. The Dragon Republic won the Crawford Award and Compton Book Award in 2019. The last book in the series, The Burning God, got nominated for Goodreads Choice Award for Fantasy in 2020.

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