A Magic Steeped in Poison - Review
Updated: Aug 28, 2022
*I received the physical copy for the B2 Weird Bookclub tour. All reviews are my own.*
I am loving the streak of Chinese mythology-inspired novels I have been picking up lately. From The Poppy War, Daughter of the Moon Goddess, and even the controversial Iron Widow, I'm always entertained by the mythical aspects based on Chinese history. I can add my latest read, A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin, to the list. In the first offering in the duology, Lin gives us an ode about the art of tea making with a magical twist.
"For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it's her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.
When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom's greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning's only chance to save her sister's life.
But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger."
I want to get two things off my chest before I start.
I am not in love with the title of this book. I know authors rarely have a choice when picking the titles of their work, but the name is hitting waaaaay too close to Witches Steeped in Gold. Publishers, we couldn't come up with something else?
I feel like this story was taken and expanded from Sue Lynn Tan's Daughter of the Moon Goddess. It's not a bad observation. **SPOILER ALERT** There is a scene in DOTMG where there is a competition following a tea ceremony to win the royals' favor. Though that tournament was basically a paragraph, I'd like to imagine that Lin picked up on the missed opportunity and created an entire story on her own. To be fair, there were a lot of Moon Goddess mentionings in AMSIP. But I also believe it is popular mythology within Chinese culture.
Ok, now that those thoughts are out the way, I can breathe easier. I don't think people appreciate the art of making a proper cup of tea. Uncle Iroh would be rolling in his grave right now if he found out how we consume hot leaf juice.
I am grateful for this story because each strain of tea teaches the readers how to acknowledge the ingredients and their properties. The magical connections between the pourers and the consumers showcase an invisible thread that bridges everything and everyone. Lin never bragged about it much, but I think the main character Ning had a scarce ability to make these types of connections with people, which furthered her in the competition. Coupled with her drive to save her dying sister, semi-sleuthing to figure out who's poisoning the kingdom, and her awkward romance with the hot banished prince, we have an entertaining, faced-paced story that will have you rushing for Book 2!
Overall I gave this book 3.5 stars. It was very engaging, and I quickly got through it. I wish Lin showed a little more sleuthing when it came to Ning and The Shadow, but this is the first in a duology, and everyone knows everything comes to a head in the last book. I'll be waiting for A Venom Dark and Sweet, coming out in August 2022.