Another week, another chapter of The Poppy War. In this chapter, Rin deals with menstruation, tops her classes, steals a library book, and is a general badass.
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 Warning: Self-harm
Rin gets a harsh reality check after Jun bans her from Combat class after a scuffle that was largely Nezha’s fault. She responds to the elitism at Sinegard Academy by resolving to beat every single one of these aristocratic children in all their classes. Rin’s brand of hardcore determination is a large part of why I love this book so much.
But Nezha attacked first.
The more she considered this, the faster her despair crystallized into anger.
Rin is consistent in always managing to turn most extreme emotions into rage, it’s no wonder that The Phoenix loves her. Also explains why she can relate to Altan so easily.
“She had come from nothing. She wasn’t going back to nothing.”
I LOVE this line, I made a wallpaper featuring the quote here.
Kitay, my sweet boy, is the only one who comes around to try and console Rin. She’s not having any of it, as she’s witnessed first hand how unfair the system is.
“The Keju keeps the lower classes sedated. It keeps us dreaming. It’s not a ladder for mobility; it’s a way to keep people like me exactly where they were born. The Keju is a drug.”
Considering that we learned from Chapter 1 that most children from Tikany did not sit the Keju this year because of the drought and poor harvest, it’s all too easy to see how the Keju system is inherently rigged against the peasant.
“So you’re not dying, sweetheart, your body is just shedding your uterine lining.”
Rin’s jaw had been hanging open for a solid minute.
“What the fuck?”
Rin has her first and last experience with menstruation in this chapter. Considering that SFF rarely spares a thought for periods, let alone address how a heroine might deal with it, this chapter is ground-breaking.
While Rin chose hysterectomy, I liked that The Poppy War is quick to point out there are other choices – evident by Kureel, Arda, Venka, and other females within Sinegard Academy. I also loved that the text never criticises or judge Rin for her decision regarding her own body.
“You’re insane,” said Venka.
Rin glared up at her, blood dripping from her mouth, and smiled.
Seriously, how could you NOT love her.
The Keju had meant nothing. The Keju had tested her ability to recite poems like a parrot. Why had she ever imagined that might have prepared her for a school like Sinegard?
This is pretty much how I felt about high school and its ability to prep me for real life.
Success required sacrifice. Sacrifice meant pain. Pain meant success.
Rin’s idea of success is so tied together with pain and suffering, needless to say I am worried about where this will lead her in the future. Rin does not only sacrifice herself, she is willing to sacrifice other people. She has already shown in The Poppy War that she is willing to sacrifice innocent Mugenese lives to exact her revenge.
This misery she reveled in, because she had chosen it for herself.
This is the best descriptor of Rin.
Modern Hesperian was a language that followed neither rhyme nor reason. Its rules were close to pure randomness, its pronunciation guides haphazard and riddled with exceptions.
I love this song.
Achievement was a high. Failure was worse than withdrawal.
I relate too much to Rin’s response to academic pressures.
She particularly enjoyed Strategy.
While Rin excels at rote memorisation and it’s how she clawed her way to the top of every class, I love that her favourite class (for now) is one that requires out of the box thinking. I would also love a class of Strategy with Irjah, based on the description of what’s involved in the lessons.
Nezha suggested they commission the nearby farmers to mass-produce arrows in one night.
This response is just so Nezha, at least at this point in the book.
“Their archers will mistake the scarecrows for soldiers, and shoot until they resemble pincushions… We use our enemy’s arrows to kill our enemies.”
I love how smart Kitay is and wish he got to utilise his skill in Strategy more effectively during the war. This particular tactic of using scarecrows to gather arrows also came straight from the legendary Zhuge Liang, prior to the Battle of Red Cliff.
“Break the dam. Flood the valley. Let everyone inside drown.”
Her classmates turned to stare at her in horror.
“Leave the children,” she added. “There’s no way to save them.”
I got chills reading this segment during my first read through. Rin’s ruthlessness and relentless pursuit of her goals are her defining characteristics. It’s no wonder the book ended the way it did.
“You don’t let an enemy walk away if they’ll certainly be a threat to you later. You get rid of them.”
I love foreshadowing.
The next part shows us Rin and Irjah’s conversation about her essay, in which she mimicked the events of the Second Poppy War and sacrificed a Nikaran island to secure the people’s loyalty. At this point, she seems convinced that the sacrifice was the correct choice. This quickly changed when her heritage was revealed later on in the novel, and in its place, Rin feels the same resentment towards the Empire that Altan did. However, I wonder if this painful history would prevent her from making a similar decision in the future.
“Nikan does not like to speak of Speer, and for good reason.”
Due to the same reasons all the other colonisers never like to speak about their past.
“My tactic doesn’t grant the possibility of peace.”
It gives me some comforts that Rin recognises the flaws in her ruthless strategies now. With Chaghan and Qara demonstrating that they are willing to go along with orders which require Nikan sacrifices later on in the novel, I wonder what Rin and The Cikes will be capable of in the future.
“Jun didn’t punish you because you were brawling. Tobi and Altan did far worse than that their first year. He punished you because he’s a purist about the school— he thinks any students who isn’t descended from a Warlord isn’t worth his time.”
I am waiting for the Jun redemption arc as well! Nezha got one. I need one for the Combat Master before I can get fully onboard with the Jun/Jiang shipping.
“You’ll find a way,” Irjah said. His eyes twinkled. “Sunzi would.”
Lines like this makes me so sad that Irjah died in Golyn Niis. He was a fair teacher, even though he was enabling Altan’s addiction. I love how layered and morally ambiguous even the side characters in this book are.
She learned that martial arts revolved largely around lineage: different forms belonged to different families, similar techniques taught and improved upon by pupils who shared the same master.
I like this part because it reminds me of the wuxia dramas I watch and all of the rivalries and drama between the different martial schools. I love that in The Poppy War, the privilege that is inherent in martial arts learning is highlighted. An orphan like Rin has no one to teach her refined forms and techniques. Another thing I love is that when Jiang decides to teach Rin martial arts, he falls back to the basics and does not bother with the inherited arts.
“I don’t want to read about the balance in the universe. I want to know how to beat people up.”
Fang Runin in a nutshell, everyone.
Rin went into the restricted section, stole a book, and taught herself an obscure and dangerous art form. I feel like Hermione Granger would be proud.
She would have been lying to herself if she didn’t admit that she derived great aesthetic pleasure from staring at him. With his lithe, muscled form and chiselled jawline, Altan was undeniably handsome.
Rin is basically me sitting through the current football World Cup. I’m not here for sports I am here for the aesthetics.
Rin watched Altan fight twenty-three matches before the end of the fall. He never lost.
It’s always hard when your heroes fail, I wonder how Rin will deal with taking up Altan’s position in the sequel.
What a chapter! There was not much in the way of plot, but I felt we learned a lot more about Rin and her brand of determination and ferocity. Next week, the beginning of our favourite teacher-student relationship will blossom when Jiang takes Rin under his wings.