Synopsis: (Taken from Goodreads) 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.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. 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. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
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.
I absolutely LOVED this book. It was gripping, brutal and beautiful, and kept me hooked from beginning to end. It’s been a while since I’ve found something that I was excited to sit down and read, and truly found myself immersed in this world full of political intrigue and just the right amount of magic. It was believable and unbelievable all at once!
I loved the characters, none of them were one dimensional and all flawed in some way or the other, blurring the lines between “good” and “bad”. Even our heroine is morally complex and I found her warring inner monologue particularly interesting, and at times frustrating… like GIRL, WHY ARE YOU MAKING THAT DECISION?! It was refreshing to read such an honest, unforgiving and unapologetic POV.
I still have SO MANY questions left at the end of this, of which I’ll avoid because I don’t like writing spoilers in reviews, but I am very much looking forward to reading the next instalment in this trilogy. I will also most definitely be reading more into the history of China on which certain events in this novel are based upon. Please be aware that there are some TW in way of brutality and rape which some readers may find distressing.
Overall, a very well researched and authentic politically charged fantasy novel, which I will most certainly be recommending to everyone!