Hello, friends! Today is my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin, one of my most anticipated releases this year! I’m excited to share my (slightly rambling) review and a journal spread with you and I hope you enjoy this post! 🍵
Special thanks to Judy I. Lin and Feiwel and Friends for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review
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Goodreads: A Magic Steeped in Poison (The Book of Tea #1)
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: 29 March 2022
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Judy I. Lin’s sweeping debut A Magic Steeped in Poison, first in a duology, is sure to enchant fans of Adrienne Young and Leigh Bardugo.
I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, “These are the hands that buried my mother.”
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.
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TL;DR: A Magic Steeped in Poison was one of my most anticipated releases this year and I’m so glad to say that it did not disappoint! This was a stunning debut and an absolute feast for the senses in many ways (seriously though, prepare to get hungry and thirsty)! From the gorgeous fairytale-esque writing full of lush and immersive descriptions to the unique magical system involving tea, its compelling cast of characters, and themes of identity, family, friendship, loyalty and honour—I’m calling it one of my favourite reads so far this year and I’m eagerly (or more like impatiently, lol) awaiting the sequel.
I’m going to preface this by saying that I hope I can write a
decent coherent review but y’know what happens when you enjoy a book so much that you lose words when it comes time to write a review? Yes. But before that, let’s please take a moment to bask in the beauty that is this cover. I’m screaming it: STUNNING! The colours and details in the artwork are simply *chefs kiss*! 😍
Not only is this cover gorgeous, but it’s also indicative of the story that’s waiting for you inside these pages. If you enjoy fairytale-esque writing, then you’ll definitely enjoy Lin’s style that perfectly complements the whimsical vibes portrayed by the cover—it’s not overly poetic but there’s a magical quality to it that swept me up and completely immersed me in the story. The world-building is enriched by the inclusion of many folktales and myths and I loved how so many aspects of the tea magic, politics, and Ning’s experiences were reflected through these stories. The magic system is based on tea and the magic it yields depends on how it’s prepared and the affinity of the one who prepares it. I found it very unique and fascinating and I can’t wait to see what more can be done with it in the next book. I don’t watch Chinese dramas but I’ve occasionally seen bits cos my sister loves them, so it was easy to picture this playing out in my head like one and it was exciting, dramatic, slightly angsty but so much fun! I felt the tension of the competition, the fear and determination of our main character, and the angsty longing in the smol romance sub-plot.
“Mother said there is power in words, in hopes we breathe into being. It dangles there before me, a dream once as far out of reach as the stars in the sky, my longing for a different life.”
The story is fast but well-paced from the beginning as we dive straight into Ning’s journey from her village to the capital, and from there, Lin steadily builds up the layers of the plot and manages to keep the level of intrigue high until the very end. I liked that while the magical competition aspect played a big role, it was also spaced out nicely so that it never became repetitive or overdone. As is typical in stories with “court drama” this one is also filled with political intrigue that served to up the stakes and increases the pressure both in and out of the competition. There were lots of political games being played and it was fascinating to watch it all unfold—I was constantly questioning who I could trust and what the characters’ motives were. While I wouldn’t say the plot has never been done before, and neither was it overly complex, I was completely engaged the whole time and I loved every minute of it!
The story is told from Ning’s perspective and I thought she was a really interesting main character! She’s driven by guilt, anger, love for her family and her secret desire for a better life—one that’s free of the stigma of being the different and troublesome daughter of a mother who got pregnant out of wedlock. She is naive but she learns many lessons through the relationships she develops over the course of the competition and her time in the capital. I admired her grit and determination to never give up, no matter how out of her depth she was, and I never doubted her ability to succeed.
“The stars are not a straight road but a split stream, each breaking into smaller ones, infinite possibilities outlined across the sky.”
There are a few secondary characters that play important roles alongside Ning including:
- Lian, her fellow competitor and close friend. She was really giving ride or die vibes and I loved how good a friend she was to Ning! Their strong friendship is the kind I absolutely love in books and I also loved how she brought the ‘found family’ aspects of the story by introducing Ning to the kitchen staff (yay for Small Wen and Qing’er)!
- Kang, the enigmatic love interest although he’s really more than a LI. He was very mysterious and when I thought I knew who he was and what he wanted, I continued to be proven wrong! 😅
- Princess Zhen, an interesting and complex character who I was wary of at first but grew to really like. I don’t envy her position but with the way her relationship develops with Ning, I’m very curious to see how they work together next.
That said, if there’s anything that I wish had been done better it would’ve been stronger development of these characters and especially of the romance! These secondary characters have key relationships with Ning and play important roles in the story but they felt a little two-dimensional and I was particularly disappointed that we didn’t learn more about Kang! The romance is minor but it progressed very quickly, though I was invested enough to feel the angst of certain scenes in the latter half of the book.
However, my overall enjoyment of the story overrode any issues that I had and what Lin presented here was enough to spark my curiosity even more for the next book—I just hope that we do get more from these characters then. With a head-turning cliffhanger ending (seriously, that ending! 😭) that had me re-reading the last few pages of the book once I finished, it’s safe to say that I’m more than ready for the next one, please!
Judy I. Lin was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now works as an occupational therapist, and still spends her nights dreaming up imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter. A Magic Steeped in Poison is her debut novel.
Have you read A Magic Steeped in Poison or is it on your TBR?