Title: A Magic Steeped in Poison
Author: Judy I. Lin
Series: The Book of Tea
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: March 29th, 2022
Genres: Young Adult, fantasy
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.
This book has been on my radar since the first time I saw the title and premise and I knew it was gonna be awesome. Then came the stunning and colorful cover reveal and since then, I’ve been eagerly waiting for the release date so that I could pick it up. And I’m so so happy that I’m getting to participate in a blog tour for this book which wowed me all the way through.
I remember reading a three chapter excerpt of the book a couple of months ago and I was so impressed in just those few pages. The descriptions in this book are just ethereal. Whether it’s the gorgeous pavilions and gardens in the palace, the detailed art of making tea or the way tea magic works – every thing is described so beautifully that we can totally feel it happening right in front of our eyes. The plot itself is also so engaging because we know the stakes right from the beginning and as we gradually get to know more dangers lurking in the dark and don’t know who to trust, it just becomes all the important for us to know what’s coming next and that made me not wanna put it down even for a second. It also helped that I was alone in a clinic waiting room full of people for more than 6 hours and this book was the only thing keeping me awake and not irritated. The author is very talented at keeping all the cards close to her chest and I never could really guess who some of the betrayers were gonna be, so it was a very thrilling ride. And while I’m not a fan of tea at all, I was just so damn impressed by the whole intricate process and it’s corresponding magic and I wish we had coffee versions of it all so I could try.
And the characters… just wow. Ning is someone who I fell in love with in the first chapter itself. She loves her family so much and will do anything for her sister, her mother’s loss is still overwhelming but she sets it aside because her purpose is different. But her mother is always with her through her tea making and it’s magic and I was glad that Ning still had that connection to her mom. She also can be a bit impulsive but brave and gets into many tough situations but somehow manages to get out of them too. However what endeared me most towards her was that she will always stick to her principles and speak up when she gets a chance, even it might be detrimental for her personally. It’s hard not to root for such a wonderful girl.
The story is told exclusively through Ning’s POV, so we get to see the others through her eyes. Her spark with Kang is instantaneous and there were many lovely moments between them but their path is also forged on a heap of secrets and divided loyalties, so I’m very intrigued to see how it develops next. Kang did feel like a person who had good intentions but I also felt like he didn’t understand all the stakes well enough. The princess Zhen took some time for me to get invested in but she turned out to be a strong willed woman having to fight very tough odds. I hope we get more of her in the next book because I really wanna get to know her up close. But the one character we get most page time with is Lian, the one friend that Ning makes in the capital, her roommate and competitor and partner all rolled into one. Lian is the daughter of diplomats and she has a lovely cheerful personality and seems to make friends very easily, almost taking Ning under her wing and not letting her feel alone. I loved their friendship and I also wish we will explore their bond more in the rest of the story. We also have quite a few other characters who show up frequently and leave deep impressions and I can’t wait to see how the author weaves all of their arcs together.
In the end, this debut turned out to be as lovely as I was expecting it to be and I’m not at all surprised that it debuted at #1 on the NYT Bestsellers list. This Chinese mythology and Taiwanese tea making inspired novel is gorgeously written, very evocative, has characters you get feel invested in right from the moment you meet them, and enough twists and betrayals to keep you hooked throughout. And for a change, I’m ecstatic that we’ll get the sequel in just a few more months and I don’t have to cry waiting for it.
PS: Thank you to Colored Pages Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this book tour. Thank you to Feiwel and Friends and Judy I. Lin for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.
About the Author
Judy Lin was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada when she was eight years old. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now divides her time between working as an occupational therapist and creating imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter.