I’m waking up from my long-ish hibernation because we have a special guest today!!! (I’m trying to contain my screams but clearly I’m failing at it)
If you’ve been following me for quite some time now, you should know that The Poppy War owns my heart (broken shards and all). Now, the series is coming to an end and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of The Burning God blog tour!! Without further ado, here’s my short conversation with the Pheonix of Fantasy herself—R.F. Kuang! *cue fireworks and confetti*
Disclaimer: This conversation took place in August so there are points in the conversation that are outdated (i.e. anticipated releases).
R: What aspect in The Burning God was the hardest to write about?
RFK: The third act gets quite tricky with its politics. I’ll try to talk about this in a way that doesn’t involve spoilers. I conceived of the ending a long time ago when I was a very dumb freshman taking intro history courses. I’ve nearly finished (getting there, Oxford!) two master’s degrees in the interim, so I have a better idea of China’s history and politics and how I feel about it. Teenager me wanted easy answers and vicious, black and white revenge; current me knows that there are none, and that retribution solves very little. The Burning God navigates some extraordinarily complicated questions about the costs of communist uprisings as responses to Western imperialism in the mid-twentieth century, and the futures that were or are available to those regimes. The end of The Burning God does not answer those questions so much as grapple with their impossibility.
RFK: Which books by Asian authors do you admire most on a craft level? (in that they achieve something technically very tricky, or they pull off an ambitious storyline, etc.) Personally, I’m just in awe of Ted Chiang’s short fiction. The way that he can so clearly elucidate a philosophical concept or dilemma, demonstrate the personal ramifications of that philosophy, and leave your head spinning with questions in short stories, some even as short as two pages, amazes me.
R: Honestly, your series really is my number one pick for this. The Poppy War has given me everything I want in a series and more. Aside from TPW, I really admire The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang. It’s a military fantasy standalone that serves top tier action while tugging at your heartstrings at the same time. At its core, it’s a story about family, coming to terms with oneself, and dealing with loss and grief. There’s so much that you can take away from this book and I will not stop recommending it to anyone. Oh and I need to check out Ted Chiang’s works since you speak so highly of them!
RFK: Ted is one of my favorite short story authors of all time, please do! And I’ve been hearing so much about The Sword of Kaigen, I need to get around to picking that up.
R: I’m aware that you wrote The Poppy War at a very young age. In which areas do you think your writing has improved after all these years?
RFK: Pretty much all of them. I was not a good writer at nineteen. I think about this a lot, actually; it’s very weird to me that the work that I’m most known for is also the work that I feel the most distance from, both emotionally and on the level of craft. I think it’s important to constantly work at improving your writing, and I think I’ve made great strides from my abilities when I drafted The Poppy War. And that’s just on the skills level. I also think age helps tremendously with perspective; I’ve just learned so much and read so much over the five years during which I’ve been working on this trilogy. I have better things to say; better arguments to make. I’ve read more of the relevant literature. I’m working on the Oxford dark academia book now, and I just know that each scene is suffused with more nuanced and deliberate thought that any part of The Poppy War ever was. I’m grateful to have gotten the opportunities that I did when I was young – it’s cool to get paid to write what is essentially your training wheels project – but I really, really hope that one day people will say, “Oh, The Poppy War? Yeah, that’s her worst book.”
RFK: Are there any authors for whom their later works you’ve really enjoyed more than their earlier works? Any the other way around?
R: I think I really enjoyed reading Laini Taylor’s later works. I love Daughter of Smoke and Bone but Strange the Dreamer is on another level of excellence. On the other hand, I enjoyed reading Rin Chupeco’s earlier works. I still love their latest books but The Bone Witch has a special place in my heart. I also read their debut—The Girl from the Well— recently and it’s SO GOOD.
RFK: Yes! I remember reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone in college after a long spell of not reading any SFF and just feeling so rejuvenated about the whole genre. But I haven’t picked up any of her later books – it sounds like I really need to!
R: There are a lot of promising new book releases this 2020. What are your favorites so far and what other releases are you excited for?
RFK: So many! Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic was one of my reading highlights of the year – it’s so deliciously creepy and perfectly paced. Horror’s not usually my thing because I get scared too easily, and staying up to finish it was a mistake, but I couldn’t help it; I just had to know what happened. Linden Lewis’s debut The First Sister came out in August, and it’s perfect for anyone who enjoyed Mass Effect or Red Rising but wished that both just had more women and more queer characters. Linden was in my Odyssey cohort along with Farah N. Rishi, and it’s been so cool to watch her on her publishing journey–she truly has one of the most assured writing and engaging writing voices I’ve ever read. I’m also excited for Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun, which I got to read an arc of (it’s brilliant!) and V.E. Shwab’s Addie LaRue (no explanation necessary; the arc killed me) to finally come out so that the rest of the world can experience how wonderful they are!
RFK: What are your favorite and most anticipated releases?
R: I still have to read Mexican Gothic! I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews and I’m pretty sure that I will love it as well. I also agree with you on Addie LaRue. Reading it was an absolute pleasure and I can’t wait for more people to read it when it releases!
Some 2020 releases I have read and enjoyed were The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong, and of course The Burning God (this destroyed me more than anything else but I still love it so much).
There you go! Thank you so much to R.F. Kuang for visiting my blog for the second time!! (yes this post has too many exclamation points don’t mind me) Do you want to know which TPW character was born in a Louis Vuitton toilet or who among them is most likely to listen to Old Town Road and Ariane Grande? If yes, you might want to check out my first interview with Rebecca. It’s the perfect content to read while waiting for TBG to utterly destroy you.
PLEASE SUPPORT THE RELEASE OF THE POPPY WAR’S EPIC CONCLUSION! The Burning God releases on November 17. Good luck to everyone! Things may or may not hurt. 🙂
Rebecca F. Kuang is a Marshall Scholar, Chinese-English translator, and the Astounding Award-winning and Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of the Poppy War trilogy. Her work has won the Crawford Award and the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale.
The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R. F. Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect.
After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.
Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.
Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?