The Poppy War (The Poppy War, Book 1) by R.F. Kuang
Winner of the Reddit Fantasy Award for Best Debut 2018
'The best fantasy debut of 2018' WIRED
A brilliantly imaginative epic fantasy debut, inspired by the bloody history of China's twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic.
When Rin aced the Keju - the test to find the most talented students in the Empire - 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 had hoped to get rich by marrying her off; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free from a life of servitude. 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. Fighting the prejudice of rival classmates, Rin discovers that 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 psychoactive substances and a seemingly insane teacher, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive - and that mastering these 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 Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most people calmly go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away...