Welcome back to The Poppy War Reread, this week we are diving into chapter3.
Reminder that these posts will contain spoilers for the ENTIRE book. If you haven’t finished reading The Poppy War yet, feel free to check back when you are done.
Content Warnings for Chapter 3: allusion to drug use and drug addiction, allusion to genocide.
Rin and Nezha are the last to arrive to the main hall, thanks to their scuffle at the end of the last chapter. I love that the older students are being loud and brash on purpose to set the new recruits on edge, reminds me of my good old days in high school.
Jima Lain, the grand master of Sinegard Academy, arrives with her contingent of teachers and she is a smol. One of those ‘looks like cinnamon roll but could actually kill you’ situation. I need to classify all of the characters into their specific meme categories later, for science.
The man to Jima’s left wore no belt at all… he dressed as if he’d forgotten orientation was happening and had thrown on a formless brown cloak at the last minute.
Rin immediately notices Jiang, because he clearly gives no fucks about the orientation and arrived in a sleeping robe. Rin can’t tell how old he is despite his white hair, although I have it on very good authority that Jiang Ziya is hot. You’re welcome.
Jiang’s character is also based off a historical and folklore figure, Jiang Ziya. He was Su Daji’s nemesis and the protagonist of Fengshen Yanyi. That’s two of three of the Trifecta having direct correlation to mythology – which makes me wonder who The Warrior was and what happened to him. It also has me incredibly curious about Jiang and The Empress’s relationship.
There are less than fifty students in the Academy, and Jima promises that more than a fifth of them will be gone by the next year. They’re not interested in soldiers, they want to train generals and commanders of armies. I bet this thinking changed in a hurry when The Federation arrived and killed pretty much everyone.
Jima lists out the subjects taught in the Academy: Strategy, History, Weaponry, Linguistics, and Medicine – conveniently leaving out Lore until Jiang speaks up. I am curious how Jiang came to be appointed the Master of Lore, does The Empress have a hand in keeping him employed? I know people compared Jiang to Elodin (from The Name of the Wind) pretty much right off the bat – but I will ask you not to slander Jiang like this on my blog. Jiang did way more for Rin than Elodin ever did for Kvothe.
“Lastly, I will give a warning. I do not tolerate drugs on this campus.
Finally, Jima warns the first year that Sinegard Academy has a strict no-drugs policy on campus. Like the ‘no students may enter the Forbidden Forest’ rule in Harry Potter, we will see a blatant disregard for school guidelines at the hands of a teacher. Jiang is pretty much Hagrid, except instead of fostering dangerous magical creatures he cultivates an illegal drug farm in the country’s most highly regarded institution.
Sweet Raban takes the first years through the campus, I am still upset at his death and how sad it made Niang.
“Three girls in one year is actually a record high. The masters were shocked.”
Three girls in a class of fifty, and Rin is barely friends with the other two thanks to social divide. I love ladies banding together, and I am sad to see it didn’t happen here. Rin’s roomies are Niang and Venka. Venka, who comes from the affluent Dragon Province, immediately sneers at Rin’s southern background and darker skin. I can’t even muster up the energy to be annoyed at her, because every time I see Venka now I just want to cry, courtesy of chapter 21.
Their first lesson is Combat with grumpy Jun, who’s definitely in the ‘looks like they could kill you and can actually kill you’ category. Rin belatedly learn that everyone else in the class has had previous martial arts training – and realises how much harder she will have to work compared to these kids who were born in privilege and raised for success.
Nezha had developed a truly spectacular bruise over his left eye, a bright splotch of violet on his otherwise flawless mien.
Even when Rin is admiring her violent handiwork, she appreciates beauty. A true icon.
I also forgot to mention this during my Chapter 2 readalong, but Nezha is also named for one of the characters in Fengshen Yanyi. Nezha is also one of the most recognisable deity of the Chinese pantheon. There are already a couple of parallels in his story arc to the mythology, which I will expand upon as we go along. The Nezha of mythology was a bit of a reckless and violent brat to begin with, so the similarities are immediately obvious.
“Martial arts is about action and reaction. Angles and trigonometry… Martial arts is no more complicated than pure physics.”
Jun gives the class an insight into the mathematics and grounded logic of martial arts – a far cry from the mythical ki. I can see why Jiang gets on his nerves, because Lore is the complete opposite of this exacting science. But you know what they say, opposites attract.
The class then starts History with Yim, who does not pull any punches and expound on Nikara’s recent string of defeats.
“This is why we call this past century the Age of Humiliation”
“Upbeat,” muttered a wiry-haired kid at the front.
You guys, this kid is Kitay. His first ever word is sass to the teacher. I love my boy. The Age of Humiliation also directly parallels the Century of Humiliation experienced by China in the mid-19th century, with various foreign powers threatening the country’s independence. It began with the First Opium War and ended with Mao Zedong’s victory. Knowing the various key inspiration for The Poppy War (namely, that Rin is based on Mao), adds another layer to the path this story will take.
What follows is essentially info-dump on the history of Nikara, but I find the Empire’s past so interesting that I did not mind. The parallels between the Poppy Wars and the Sino-Japanese Wars are immediately obvious, and it makes me wonder what life in Nikara was like in the years between the First and Second Poppy War. I secretly hope we get more of The Empress and Jiang’s POV in the sequels to illuminate on this period in time, as it’s not explored within this book.
The class discusses the reasons why Nikara won the Second Poppy War. The answer is Speer – sacrificed to the Federation so that the Western powers with their superior naval forces would intervene. I’ll save my thoughts on Speer for another day, as their tragedy is one that this book constantly revisits. I would love to see how the relationship between Hesperia and Nikara is explored in future novels.
Kitay’s introduction has got to be the cutest thing ever, I forgot he was such a little chatterbox – he reveals that he’s been cut from Nezha’s social circle even though they grew up together. I am willing to forgive Nezha for a lot of things, but not for this. Don’t worry Kitay, I’ll be your friend!
“This isn’t a garden. This is a drug farm.”
The class turns up to Lore and Jiang never shows. Endearingly, Rin immediately feels a kinship towards Jiang because hey, she grew up dealing drugs. I wanna know how Jiang keeps his gainful employment. I wanna read about Jiang tending to his wondrous drug farm. I wanna see ten spin-off novellas on Jiang frolicking around the campus flirting with Jun and annoying students. Make this happen, Harper Voyager.