…because she had chosen it for herself

Excerpt from The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

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This is an excerpt from the book The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang.

She threw herself into her studies. Classes became like warfare, each interaction a battle. With every raised hand and every homework assignment, she competed against Nezha and Venka and every other Sinegardian. She had to prove that she deserved to be kept on, that she merited further training.

She had needed failure to remind her that she wasn’t like the Sinegardians—she hadn’t grown up speaking casual Hesperian, wasn’t familiar with the command structure of the Imperial Militia, didn’t know the political relationships between the Twelve Warlords like the back of her hand. The Sinegardians had this knowledge ingrained from childhood. She would have to develop it.

Every waking hour that she didn’t spend in class, she spent in the archives. She read the assigned texts out loud to herself; wrapping her tongue around the unfamiliar Sinegardian dialect until she had eradicated all hints of her southern drawl.

She began to burn herself again. She found release in the pain; it was comforting, familiar. It was a trade-off she was well used to. Success required sacrifice. Sacrifice meant pain. Pain meant success.

She stopped sleeping. She sat in the front row so that there was no way she could doze off. Her head ached constantly. She always wanted to vomit. She stopped eating.

She made herself miserable. But then, all of her options led to misery. She could run away. She could get on a boat and escape to another city. She could run drugs for another opium smuggler. She could, if it came down to it, return to Tikany, marry, and hope no one found out that she couldn’t have children until it was too late.

But the misery she felt now was a good misery. This misery she reveled in, because she had chosen it for herself.

One month later, Rin tested at the top of one of Jima’s frequent Linguistics exams. She beat Nezha’s score by two points. When Jima announced the top five scores, Rin jerked upright, happily shocked.

She had spent the entire night cramming Hesperian verb tenses, which were infinitely confusing. Modern Hesperian was a language that followed neither rhyme nor reason. Its rules were close to pure randomness, its pronunciation guides haphazard and riddled with exceptions.

She couldn’t reason through Hesperian, so she memorized it, the way she memorized everything she didn’t understand.

“Good,” Jima said crisply when she handed Rin’s exam scroll back to her.

Rin was startled at how good “good” made her feel.

She found that she was fueled by praise from her masters. Praise meant that she had finally, finally received validation that she was not nothing. She could be brilliant, could be worth someone’s attention. She adored praise—craved it, needed it, and realized she found relief only when she finally had it.

She realized, too, that she felt about praise the way that addicts felt about opium. Each time she received a fresh infusion of flattery, she could think only about how to get more of it. Achievement was a high. Failure was worse than withdrawal. Good test scores brought only momentary relief and temporary pride—she basked in her grace period of several hours before she began to panic about her next test.

She craved praise so deeply that she felt it in her bones. And just like an addict, she did whatever she could to get it.

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The Poppy War – Summary

An epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic.

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.

Copyright © 2018 by R.F. Kuang.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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