So this week I was reading The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang, which I would characterize as Big Trouble in Little China meets Harry Potter meets Mulan, although insofar as I have never actually seen Mulan (any version) I’m kind of just guessing on that last one*.
The Poppy War takes place in an extremely thinly-veiled version of China (even more thinly-veiled than the version of Italy in which Tigana takes place), which is perpetually either about to be, at, or just finished waging war with an extremely thinly-veiled version of Japan (even more thinly-veild version of France in which A Song for Arbonne takes place). Lurking around the edges of the story is another country, Hesperia, which I don’t yet have enough information to decide if it’s a thinly-veiled version of England or a thinly-veiled version of the United States. So far my money is on its being a thinly-veiled version of England, but we’ll see.
Anyway, the basic plotline of The Poppy War is that the heroine, Rin, being some manner of war orphan/street urchin, finds herself about to be married off to someone she really doesn’t want to be married off to; and so through intensive study and sheer pig-headedness, manages to get herself admitted to the most prestigious military university in the country, where she thinks she’s going to learn how to be a soldier, but instead learns … Other stuff. Like dream interpretation:
“But why that particular dream? Why would your sleeping mind have chosen to extract those images from your memory compared to any other images? Why not a horse, or a field of jasmine flowers, or Master Jun riding buck naked on the back of a tiger?”R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War
Rin blinked. “Is that something you dream about?”
“Answer the question,” he said.
Meanwhile, work continues on Blue Roses! Having pruned off the deadwood, so to speak, the pace of writing has picked up a little; one of the ways I could tell it was going wrong was that I hadn’t been able to come anywhere close to my target of 500 words a day, because I was thinking about it too much. You never want too much thinking.
He heard a scuttling noise from behind him and the squirrel reappeared, climbing up onto Baxter’s bent knee. Somewhere between its flight and its return it had found the time to acquire a fragment of candy bar wrapper that still had some chocolate clinging to the inside. Holding this treasure in one paw like a snack-sized bag of chips, the squirrel peered up at the sigil.James V. Viscosi, Blue Roses
“What is that?” Baxter asked it.
“I’m not sure,” the squirrel said, as the symbol rippled and faded, “but it isn’t good.”
You know you’re in trouble when even the squirrel is baffled, am I right?
* Having finished the book since writing this post, I would now add “meets The Rape of Nanjing” onto the end of that list― yes, the tonal shift is that severe.