Hello, friends! It’s my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for A Venom Dark and Sweet by Judy I. Lin and I’m very excited to share my thoughts and favourite quotes with you today! You can check out my review for the first book in the duology, A Magic Steeped in Poison HERE.
Thanks to the author and Feiwel & Friends for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Click here or on the banner above to check out the rest of the fantastic bloggers on tour!
A Venom Dark and Sweet (The Book of Tea #2)
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: 23 August 2022
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Rep: Chinese, Taiwanese // Lesbian & Nonbinary
The enthralling conclusion to Judy I. Lin’s Book of Tea duology—A Magic Steeped in Poison and A Venom Dark and Sweet—is sure to enchant fans of Adrienne Young and Leigh Bardugo.
A great evil has come to the kingdom of Dàxi. The Banished Prince has returned to seize power, his rise to the dragon throne aided by the mass poisonings that have kept the people bound in fear and distrust.
Ning, a young but powerful shénnóng-shi—a wielder of magic using the ancient and delicate art of tea-making—has escorted Princess Zhen into exile. Joining them is the princess’ loyal bodyguard, Ruyi, and Ning’s newly healed sister, Shu. Together the four young women travel throughout the kingdom in search of allies to help oust the invaders and take back Zhen’s rightful throne.
But the golden serpent still haunts Ning’s nightmares with visions of war and bloodshed. An evil far more ancient than the petty conflicts of men has awoken, and all the magic in the land may not be enough to stop it from consuming the world…
⚠️ CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS
Violence, fight scenes, witnessed torture, death, and disturbing events (mutilation, body horror, forced suicide, possession, and fire).
Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.
TL;DR: A Venom Dark and Sweet is a thrilling and action-packed conclusion to The Book of Tea duology. The story takes a much darker turn as the focus shifts from court politics to outsmarting the machinations of a corrupt deity, and it’s filled with surprising turns that will keep you on your toes. Told in dual POV from Ning’s and Kang’s perspectives, we get to see our characters tackle and overcome their internal insecurities and external fears in the battle to save their families, the people and their homeland.
This story picks up immediately in the aftermath of book one so there will be spoilers ahead for the first book! If you haven’t read it yet, I’d definitely advise doing that and then coming back to read this review! 😉
“We all believe we are the center of the universe, but we forget we are merely specks among the stars.”
“Do not confuse fear with respect, […] they will follow both, but you will see how easily one will falter.”
I continued to enjoy Lin’s writing although it felt less whimsical as the tone of the story shifts to something darker and more sinister in the sequel. That said, I still found it just as immersive and it moves at a fairly fast pace as the truth behind the actions in book one are further revealed. The world-building is just as exquisite and I loved how descriptive each location is—from the eerie ransacked towns to the sequestered monastery to the magical bamboo forest and densely foliaged mountains. It wasn’t just the “real world” locations that were well described as the “other” world that our characters access via Shennong magic were both creepy and haunting and added a nice touch to further understanding just how insidious their foe really is. The focus here also shifts away from court politics and intrigue and looks more at the deities and the lore surrounding them, which was a very different direction from what I expected but it allowed us to dive deeper into the mysticism of this world. One of my favourite aspects has always been the unique tea magic system and I loved that we got to see so much more of it here as Ning becomes more confident in her power as a shénnóng-shi and as she learns more about the magic itself.
“You’ve grieved as well, haven’t you?” I stare back at her, wondering how she kows. If grief is draped over me now, like another mask I wear, or if has become my true face.”
“I am not a man who believes in superstition, and yet I am aware of the strength of belief.”
One of the key differences in the sequel was the added POV from Kang. I was disappointed that we didn’t get his perspective in the first book so I’m glad we got it now because it gave him the main character energy he deserved. In A Magic Steeped in Poison we don’t understand what his motives are or the exact role he played in the rebellion, so it was fantastic to finally see things from his POV and learn more about his character. He’s a very conflicted young man who’s torn between loyalty to his father as the only family he has left in the world and following his instincts and standing up for what he knows is right. There are many facets to his character which made his perspective more compelling (even when it’s told from a third-person POV which is admittedly not my favourite). After all that she experiences in book one, Ning continues to have her beliefs and views of the world challenged and goes through even more growth as the story progresses. She’s still headstrong and brash but is more confident and develops a greater understanding of how the world works. Through their perspectives, we get to see how things unfold in the capital and across the nation as they start from different locations until their storylines finally merge further on. I appreciated how this was done and thought it added to the momentum of the story!
“You were willing to give up your life for yous sister, and I sense the power of your love held inside your beating heart. To be human is to be vulnerable. To be human is to have more power than the gods will ever wield. Never forget that.”
We also get to see the personal and romantic relationships of all our characters grow. We see more of the softer sides to Zhen and Ruyi (love!) but it was also great to finally spend more time with Ning with her sister Shu and to see how supportive they were of each other. Ning’s relationship with Kang also goes through a lot but I loved to see how they found ways to overcome their difficulties and rebuilt their trust in one another. It was a little bittersweet but also heartwarming! I also loved some of the new friendships that were formed as they made me laugh and smile even when things became more serious.
“The bond of family is a kind of magic all its own.”
Overall, I thought this was a thrilling and satisfying ending to Lin’s duology. It’s hard to believe that she was able to release both books in her debut series within the same year and based on my experience reading this series, I think she’s an author that I want to keep a close eye on moving forward because I feel she’s going to keep serving gorgeous stories with beautiful settings and unique magic systems!
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.
Do you have A Venom Dark and Sweet on your TBR? Have you read the first book in The Book of Tea Duology or is it also on your TBR?