Author: R. F. Kuang
Age Range: 18+
Published: By Gollancz on November 8th, 2018
Content Warning: Check out this comprehensive list by the author
Format I Read: E-book
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. 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. 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.
There was quite a bit of hype around this book when I picked it up, primarily because of the whole controversy surrounding the author at the time. I had heard from several sources, especially diverse book bloggers, that it was a wonderful read, so I had high expectations from it.
The main character, Rin, takes a lot of getting used to because she makes some really bad choices. She’s introduced as a hard-working and ambitious girl, but she’s also stubborn, clever and ruthless. Her flaws make her so much more real and even though I couldn’t agree with her on most things, I couldn’t help but root for her. We come across a variety of different characters throughout the course of this epic story, but my favourite was Master Jiang.
Coming to the plot, there is a lot of story packed into the first book. The first half focuses on Rin’s problems while in the academy and the second half is all about the war. The events are based on the Second Sino-Japanese War and the terrible time in Chinese history that is referred to as the Rape of Nanjing. This part is very difficult to read and it did mess up my mind a bit to learn about the horrible war crimes committed by the Japanese. I really liked how the author used this as inspiration and added a magical aspect to it. The world-building draws heavily from Chinese culture and it was very interesting to read about.
Debut authors have really made a mark with some excellent quality books this year and R. F. Kuang definitely deserves to join that group. Her writing is effortlessly brilliant and fully ensnares the reader’s every sense. Her world-building skills are top notch and she creates characters that are realistic and relatable. Overall, this is the best adult fantasy and the best first book in a series I’ve read in 2018! I’m highly anticipating the release of the next book in the series, The Dragon Republic!
I highly recommend this for fans of the grimdark fantasy genre and those looking for an amazing military fantasy series. Some Oriental percussion beats in the background would go very well with the story. For the food, keep a pitcher of water and your favourite comfort food handy or you’ll regret it!
Have you read this book? If you haven’t and you’re a fantasy fan, I cannot stress enough on why you need to put it on your TBR immediately! Which debut author surprised you in 2018? Let’s discuss in the comments section below.