Analysis · Books

What makes the poppy war good?

And I am talking about one of the most exciting and dark books I have ever read in years. The same thing that felt respectful to my own culture even as sometimes I raised an eyebrow to it. (Yes, I’m Chinese and I do speak and write the language as well as know the folklore, even if I don’t live in China.)

The story is about an orphan girl who escapes her horrible future by joining the imperial examination. And that itself is rigged, mostly because the rich can afford the best tutors in the first place as well as the best materials. It begins in a note that doesn’t feel it is going well, and ends with a dreading feeling.

And one of the best moments of the book was also the most bone chilling. The moment when Runin began to rationalize genocide, massacre. When she begun to think that wiping out an entire country is the best option when compared to surrender.

When she chooses to give in completely to power, so that she may protect her own country. So that she may take revenge. And go against the very beliefs ingrained in her.

The atrocities of war are one of the best I have seen used, even if it is mostly taken from the Second World War. With what Japan did to China, the Rape of Nanking and the comfort women. It makes them have a place in the narrative rather than just thrown around. It gives Runin conviction to really do horrible things against the enemy. Because the same atrocities here were reviled by the America who generally entered China because of the Rape of Nanking.

And why I loved it. Because even for the most irrational thing I have seen thrown out, this story simply did one thing: convince me to believe in them. Think that they are right, even if I know they are so so wrong. Think that they didn’t have a choice, as otherwise Mugen will have wiped them off the map, and all their people will have died.

It simply makes the enemies the sort that it is either you take extreme measures or simply wait for it to end. Because Mugen will not surrender no matter what, and unless you do the same to them or you’ll be the ones extinguished.

It is a story of war, of how much bloodshed is worth it, loyalty to your country even if your sovereign betrayed you. Loyalty to a country which can’t survive another invasion. And what will someone do to end things, whether it means genocide or annihilation. And to what means will you go to win a war.

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