Kathe Koja's Under the Poppy was published in 2010 by Small Beer Press.
Information about Kathe Koja:
Kathe Koja (born 1960) is an American writer. She was initially known for her intense speculative fiction for adults, but over the past few years has turned to writing young adult novels.
Kathe Koja is also a prolific author of short stories, including many in collaboration with Barry N. Malzberg. Most of her short fiction remains uncollected. Koja's novels and short stories frequently concern characters who have been in some way marginalized by society, often focusing on the transcendence and/or disintegration which proceeds this social isolation (as in The Cipher, Bad Brain, "Teratisms," The Blue Mirror, etc.). Koja won the Bram Stoker Award and the Locus Award for her first novel The Cipher, and a Deathrealm Award for Strange Angels. Her prose has been described as "stunning".
Click here to visit Kathe Koja's official website.
Click here to visit Under the Poppy website.
Information about Under the Poppy:
From a wartime brothel to the intricate high society of 1870s Brussels, Under the Poppy is a breakout novel of childhood friends, a love triangle, puppet masters, and reluctant spies.
Under the Poppy is a brothel owned by Decca and Rupert. Decca is in love with Rupert but he in turn is in love with her brother, Istvan. When Istvan comes to town, louche puppet troupe in tow, the lines of their age-old desires intersect against a backdrop of approaching war.
Hearts are broken when old betrayals and new alliances — not just their own — take shape, as the townsmen seek refuge from the onslaught of history by watching the girls of the Poppy cavort onstage with Istvan's naughty puppets.
With the war getting too close, Istvan and Rupert abandon the Poppy and find a place in high society where they try to avoid becoming more than puppets themselves in the hands of those they have helped before and who now want to use them again.
Under the Poppy is a vivid, sexy historical novel as delicious and intoxicating as the best guilty pleasure.
A REVIEW OF KATHE KOJA'S UNDER THE POPPY
Under the Poppy is a mesmerizing, dark and erotic historical novel for adults. It's almost like a decadent dream that lingers somewhere between fantasy and reality. Once you start to read this novel and surrender yourself to its world, you're instantly hooked by the story.
There are several different elements in this novel. In my opinion Under the Poppy is an unforgettable story about love, unrequited love, lust, lovers, romance, friends, sex, eroticism, desire, deception, war, whores, gentlemen and naughty puppets. It's difficult to find similar novels, because it is one of a kind. It's a unique and original vision of a theatrical brothel, forbidden love and an impending war that may change everything.
Here's a bit of information about the story:
The events of Under the Poppy take place in a nameless town in a slightly alternate Victorian era Europe. Under the Poppy is basically a story about a brothel called Under the Poppy and its owners, performers and customers, but it's also much more than that. The brothel is owned by Rupert and Decca. Decca loves Rupert, but Rupert loves her brother, Istvan. When Rupert and Istvan meet each other, their old passion is rekindled... But this is just the beginning, because the first part of this novel is almost like a prologue to the stunning second part, which splendidly ends the novel.
Kathe Koja has created interesting and multilayered characters who have their own past. She writes beautifully about the past of the characters and what has happened to them and how they have come to the brothel. It was fascinating to read their stories.
The protagonists - Rupert, Istvan and Decca - used to be orphans, but then they drifted apart. Now they have found each other again. Rupert and Istvan are richly created and complex characters that love each other. The mistress of the brothel, Decca, adds tension to their relationship, because she loves Rupert. Reading about their past was fascinating, because these scenes reminded me of Charles Dickens.
The other characters range all the way from conspirators and commanders to whores, and each of them is an interesting character, because they all add a wickedly delicious flavour to the novel. I enjoyed reading about them.
The dialogue between the different characters is simply fantastic. There's plenty of wittiness in the dialogues.
It was especially interesting that the author used the theme of masters and puppets in this novel. When I read this novel and began to think about its contents, I noticed that the author used this theme as a tool to explore who's really the master and who's the puppet.
One of the best things about Under the Poppy is that the author uses multiple points of view. Reading this kind of a novel may be a bit challenging, but experienced readers will easily be hooked by the shifting view points. In my opinion this kind of storytelling gives readers a chance to find out what different characters think about themselves and their lives, because each of them have their own stories and each of them has something to hide or reveal.
Kathe Koja's prose is beautiful and deliciously nuanced. It's a real pleasure to read her prose, because the words flow effortlessly and the happenings feel wonderfully vivid. The prose is so good that it can be called poetic. To be honest, Kathe Koja writes amazingly beautiful prose that charmingly highlights the explicitness and decadent nature of the story in a seductive way.
Kathe Koja has managed to bring to life an alternate reality in which rich prose makes the reader fall in love with the story and forget everything else for a few hours. Her descriptions of the places, clothes and customs are deliciously lush and vivid, so that readers can almost taste and smell what's happening on the pages. I think that she has spent quite a lot of time researching these things, because everything feels believable and authentic.
The author writes fluently and boldly about sex, eroticism and sexual acts. This novel has almost everything from heterosexuality to homosexuality. All kind of sexual acts can be seen on stage in Under the Poppy, and almost anything is possible within its walls. The visitors that come to the brothel get to witness several sensual and erotic performances that won't leave anybody cold.
One of the best and most intriguing things about Under the Poppy is that the author writes impressively about Istvan's puppets. Istvan has a special connection with his puppets, because he seems to think about them first and then about people. Istvan calls his puppets "les mecs" and they have their own names. It was fascinating to read about his puppets and how they were used in different ways on stage. They added a fantastically weird and disturbing element to the story. These puppets almost steal the whole show.
Under the Poppy is a challenging novel, but it is a thoroughly rewarding reading experience. I noticed that this novel successfully breaks normal writing rules. In typical historical novels there aren't as many point of views and the happenings aren't as decadent and mysterious as in this novel. The use of multiple points of views works well and refreshes the novel, because the story opens up gradually and offers glimpses to the lives of the characters and reveals quite a lot of details about them.
I noticed that the author hasn't tied the happenings to an exact period of time (although the exact time isn't mentioned directly, it's easy to figure out when the happenings take place, because there are references to the 1870s Brussels). The author also writes about a nameless war that is slowly approaching. Usually authors, who write historical fiction, are very precise about these things. I liked this kind of storytelling, because it felt refreshing.
Under the Poppy may not be to everybody's liking because of its sexual contents and a bit different kind of a storytelling technique, but those readers, who are used to reading adult material, appreciate a writing style that breaks normal writing rules and want to read something different, will adore and love it. I personally liked Under the Poppy very much, because the author has done her best to write a memorable and sensual story that will linger on the reader's mind. It's one of the finest novels I've ever read.
I can highly recommend this novel to everybody who likes historical fiction and wants to read a bit different kind of a story. It can also be recommended to speculative fiction readers and readers who love literary novels. This novel will appeal to everybody, who's willing to immerse himself/herself in a dark, erotic and entertaining story.