Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.
1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel.
Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.
Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?
Babel — a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal response to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of translation as a tool of empire.
The Poppy War (2018)
The Poppy War is the first installment in a Chinese-history inspired epic fantasy trilogy about empire, warfare, shamanism, and opium. The Poppy War is a Goodreads Choice Award finalist (twice over), Nebula Award finalist, Locus Award finalist, and winner of the Stabby, Crawford, and Compton Crook Awards.
“A study in every kind of violence…Kuang pulls from East Asian history, including the brutality of the Second Sino-Japanese war, to weave a wholly unique experience.” Washington Post
“Moving from academy, to battlefield, to metaphysical plane is no small feat, but Kuang pulls it off with a grim, gleeful sense of sadism…It’s dark, it’s daunting, and it’s heartbreaking in equal measure.” The Book Smugglers
“Spectacular, masterclass, brilliant, awesome…If you like dark adult fantasy then check out this masterpiece by grimdark’s newest and perhaps darkest daughter.” Fantasy Book Review
“Kuang’s debut is a thought-provoking, coming-of-age fairytale stocked with myths, legends, lore, politics and power struggles…Setting the stage for an epic fantasy is an understandably enormous undertaking, but Kuang does an exceptional job of world and character building. The first half of The Poppy War has an expected slower pace, but the second half is rich with a brutal, beautiful bevy of bloody battles.” RT Book Reviews
“Debut novelist Kuang creates an ambitious fantasy reimagining of Asian history populated by martial artists, philosopher-generals, and gods…Kuang highlights the horrors of war, especially the moral and emotional toll on combatants who employ scorched-earth strategies. Heroic responses pale in view of the collateral damage that they trigger, and the novel does not allow its characters to slough off their culpability for channeling godly powers. Readers may empathize with Rin’s desire for vengeance, but any thrill at her success is matched by horror at its costs. This is a strong and dramatic launch to Kuang’s career.” Publisher’s Weekly
The Dragon Republic (2019)
Rin’s story continues in this acclaimed sequel to The Poppy War—an epic fantasy combining the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters.
“Her story’s refreshing, shocking, and there’s some sort of invisible phoenix fire god controlling everything. Behold the horizons of fantasy expand.” Wired
“Kuang brings brilliance to this invigorating and complex military fantasy sequel to The Poppy War.” Publishers Weekly
“Kuang’s descriptive storytelling reveals the grueling psychological and material cost of war on combatants and those they are supposed to protect. Fans of epic military fantasy will be eager for the next volume.” Booklist
“This stunning sequel to The Poppy War is an epic journey of vengeance, friendship, and power […] Kuang has created a young woman torn by her connections to friends and family, searching for love and belonging, and given power beyond her imagining. Her story is unforgettable.” Library Journal
The Burning God (2020)
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.
“Bringing her complex Poppy War trilogy to a poignant conclusion, Kuang shines a searing light on the devastating price and valiant sacrifices that warfare requires of all involved.” Booklist
“An incredible end to this epic trilogy. Mixing historical parallels of Chinese history, the themes of war, politics, and colonialism are balanced with terrific, flawed characters and amazing worldbuilding.” Library Journal
“A dark and devastating conclusion that transcends its roots in historical fact to examine brutal truths.” Kirkus
“Kuang pointedly underlines the ambiguous moral choices and personal costs of the path toward victory and lasting peace, sparing neither characters nor readers from the horrors and consequences of war. The result is a satisfying if not happy end to the series.” Publishers Weekly
“Kuang has crafted a story that is truly epic in nature, making this trilogy one of the best epic fantasies of the past decade.” Tor