Apologies, I am a day late with this reread. I recently started working the Sunday shift, so we might have to change the reread schedule a little, depending on how busy I get! Thanks for understanding.
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.
Chapter 6 is largely a training chapter, made engaging by the interactions between our favourite master-student duo: Jiang and Rin!
The snow was lovely to observe for all of two serene minutes. Then it became nothing but a pain in the ass.
It’s winter in Sinegard, and Rin has little patience for it. I have to admit, snow was very disappointing after the first few minutes.
Jiang still hasn’t turned up to any of the Lore classes, which are held in his drug garden. The cold is the last straw for many students, who decides to boycott the farce once and for all. I imagine his garden is still thriving despite the frost and disgruntled first years.
Rin is the only one who remains in the garden, as she’s secretly studying Seejin’s martial arts – you might remember her stealing this book from the library in the last chapter.
He had in turn flipped Nezha’s lunch tray out of his hands and walked away whistling, petted Kitay on the head while making a pigeon-like cooing noise, and tried to snip Venka’s hair off with garden shears.
The Lore Master has been seen sporadically around campus. He harasses everyone else, yet opts to pat Kitay on the head. I relate to this, because this is what I would also do upon meeting my favourite son.
It was a kaleidoscope of garishly bright colors, similar in color scheme to the decorations outside Tikany’s whorehouses.
I worry for Rin, who sees a rainbow of plants and immediately thinks of a provincial brothel.
Master Jiang walked around the corner, loudly whistling “The Gatekeeper’s Touches.”
Honestly, how did we EVER miss that Jiang is the Gatekeeper? I would also LOVE to see the origin story of this bawdy folk song. I am almost convinced Jiang was personally responsible for its popularity in Nikara.
He clearly wasn’t going to help her down. Rin wriggled her ankle out of the branch, tumbled to the floor, and landed in a painful heap at Jiang’s feet. Cheeks burning, she clambered to her feet and brushed the snow off her uniform.
“Elegant,” Jiang remarked.
The interactions between this student-master duo has got to be one of my favourite relationship in this book. After reading the harrowing last third of the book, I often forget how much humour there was in its initial chapters. Rebecca Kuang has great instincts for both comedy and heartbreak, a potent combination.
“You’re Irjah’s pet pupil, aren’t you?”
The masters at Sinegard Academy must spend an inordinate amount of time gossiping about their students. Ahh, to be a fly on the wall in their staff room. This is the content I need fanfiction writers to deliver.
Jiang looked impressed. “Stupid and hotheaded.”
Jiang got the measure on Rin pretty quickly. Between her and Altan, I’d say he has a type when it comes to his students.
“Were you really trying to learn Seejin from a book? Do you have a death wish?”
Except she totally does! Rin revels so much in self-inflicted pain and misery.
“Of course you won’t be learning from scrolls.”
Ahh, it is so gratifying to hear this, you do not know how many wuxia dramas I’ve watched where the protagonists manage to learn some obscure and powerful martial arts from reading a dusty old book.
“So am I interesting?” she asked slowly.
“You’re a walking disaster.”
Omg, I love them.
Rin scowled. “Then why are you helping me?”
“To spite Jun, mostly.” Jiang scratched his chin. “I hate the man. Did you know he petitioned to have me fired last week?”
I demand that Jun and Jiang be reunited in the next novel. Their differences MUST be resolved. Like Rin, I am also shocked that Jun hasn’t petitioned to get Jiang fired earlier. Kitay reveals later on in the chapter that Jiang recently got drunk and pissed into Jun’s window. That might have done it.
“Jiang’s never uttered anything nice to anyone in my year. He mostly yells at us to stay away from his daffodils.”
Even Raban immediately picks up that Rin has become Jiang’s favourite student. Also, the thought of Jiang grumpily chasing students away from his prized garden brings cheer to my heart. I also immediately went to search for the drug properties of daffodils after seeing this passage. It’s apparently an analgesic and also being studied as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Who said fantasy wasn’t educational.
“He was here when I was a first-year, but that doesn’t mean much. I heard he came from the Night Castle twenty years ago.”
So Jiang came to the Academy shortly after the end of the Second Poppy War. He was also in the Cike beforehand, which makes sense given his abilities. I need more details.
Also, I was going around saying Cike the COMPLETE wrong way, led astray by the audiobook narration (I still love you, Emily Woo Zeller, voice after my own heart). It apparently comes from the Mandarin term for assassin: 刺客.
The Cike fought without honor. They respected no rules of combat, and they were notorious for their brutality. They operated in the darkness; they did the Empress’s dirty work and received no recognition afterward.
This was the first mention of the Cike in the novel, and I knew from the start that Rin belonged among this gang of outcasts. Can’t wait to see how these misfits will alter the course of Nikara.
But Lore is … I don’t know, Lore’s odd. I think it was originally meant to be a study of the Hinterlanders, to see if there’s any substance to their witch-magic rituals, but everyone lost interest pretty quickly.
Reading this particular passage the second time around send chills through me. Study of the Hinterlanders and their powers? Sounds all too familiar to the study of the Speerly at the hand of the Federation. I wonder if Mugen’s awful experiment is the reason why Lore’s original purpose quickly fell into disuse.
She bristled. “Shut up. I have friends.”
“You have a friend,” Kitay said. “Singular.”
Aw, Kitay and Rin’s friendship is the best ship.
“I see Jiang in the infirmary sometimes,” said Arda.
“Enro keeps a walled-off bed just for him. He stays for a day or two every other month and then leaves.
Is this the same affliction that caused him to lose his memories of the events in The Second Poppy War?
“None of your business, Loran,” Jiang said breezily. He tried to skirt around Jun, but Jun stepped into his path.
That first name basis, though.
“I have taught her class the crushing sensation of disappointment and the even more important lesson that they do not matter as much as they think they do.”
An important lesson, indeed.
“Why does he hate you so much?” Rin asked as they climbed down the mountain pass toward the city.
Jiang shrugged. “They tell me I killed half the men under his command during the Second War. He’s still bitter about it.”
Undoubtedly one of the reasons why Jiang’s memories about the war has been sealed. I need an entire novella about this particular incident, please. And I would love to know whether Jiang and Jun were familiar with one another prior to this.
“This is the Widow Maung,” Jiang said. “She sells me things.”
“Drugs,” clarified the Widow Maung. “I am his drug dealer.”
I love Widow Maung and dearly hope this chapter isn’t the last that we see of her.
The pig in question was a tiny thing, no longer than Rin’s forearm. Its skin was spotted black and pink. The way its snout curved up made it look like it was grinning. It was oddly cute.
Don’t get attached, Rin! That is good advice for everything across these books.
“There are five principal elements present in the universe—get that look off your face, it’s not as absurd as it sounds.”
The five elements, or Wu Xing, is pivotal to many of China’s traditional structures e.g. astrology, medicine, feng shui, and of course martial arts. It’s fitting to see it employed by Jiang to teach Rin here.
As the Phoenix is a creature of fire, I wonder if we will see other gods who holds dominion over the remaining elements. There was a god of wind that was released from Chuluh Korikh at the end of the novel.
“They’re prayer wheels. But we don’t have time to get into that today.”
I don’t think the mystery of the cylindrical prayer wheels were ever solved in this book, I wonder if we will return to Sinegard Academy at some point.
“The Red Emperor had most religious imagery stripped and looted when he took over Sinegard.”
The Red Emperor eradicated religious icons from Nikara yet wanted to seize control of the Speerly because of their ability to channel a god. I wonder if he was aware of Tearza’s ability.
“Martial arts came to the Empire by way of a warrior named Bodhidharma from the southeastern continent.”
This is pretty much the tale of how Shaolin Kungfu was introduced to China, down to the detail of a disciple who cut off his own arm.
“Shortly before the days of the Red Emperor, the Empire was invaded by the horsemen from the Hinterlands to the north.”
The Hinterlands has a complicated and tension fraught history with Nikara, I wonder how this will come to play in the future, especially with Chaghan and Qara. Chaghan is ‘the lost son of the last true khan’ of Hinterland, after all.
“Each of the five elements must be in balance. Too much fire, and you’ll lash out recklessly.”
Sadly this is pretty much what we see at the end of The Poppy War.
The moment where Rin finally beats Jiang at sparring is so sweet.
Oink? Sunzi looked imploringly at Rin.
“Don’t look at me,” Rin said. “It’s the end of the road for you.”
The saddest moment of this entire book.
“You darling child,” he said, spinning toward her. “You brilliant child.”
Rin’s face split into a grin. Fuck it, she thought, and leaped up to embrace him.
I love these two, and I love seeing Rin’s training paid off. I usually find training chapters very difficult to get through because of the slower pace and the inherent tedium. However, the interactions between Jiang and Rin really saves this chapter.
He picked her up and swung her through the air, around and around among the kaleidoscopically colorful mushrooms.
I need a fanart of this exact scene.
“You have to pledge Lore,” Jiang continued excitedly. “No one—no one, not even Altan, picked things up this fast.”
Look how excited he was! Knowing that Rin will soon break his heart makes this all the more difficult the second time around.
She hadn’t come to Sinegard to pursue stories on a whim, especially stories that were disdained by everyone else in the capital.
The thing about Rin is that she was always drawn to these stories about gods and supernatural powers, evident by her disappointment when she learned that Sinegardians regarded shamanism as silly folk tales. She was meant for Lore.
“Sir, I just want to learn to be a good soldier,” she said.
Jiang’s face fell.
“You and the rest of this school,” he said.
Ouch. Even knowing that she ends up picking Lore in the end, this chapter ending hurts.
Did this chapter change your opinion on Jiang? What are your guesses as to his background?
I hope to see you again next week for chapter 7! It’s gonna be a good one!