Judy I. Lin delights the senses with her magical tea fantasy, A Magic Steeped in Poison. Rich world-building, a unique magic system, and high stakes turn this story into a vibrant and engrossing tale.
The story follows Ning, a magical tea making apprentice known as a “shennong-shi.” After accidentally brewing poisoned tea and giving it to her family, Ning finds herself without a mother, and sick sister at death’s door. However, Ning hears about a competition being held at the palace to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi. And the winner will receive a favor from the princess.
This is Ning’s one chance to save her sister. So, armed with her box of tea and determination, Ning sets off to the capital to prove that she has what it takes in the world of tea.
Yet, Ning quickly realizes the road to victory will not be easy, as politics, backstabbing competitors, and a young man with a shocking secret all stand in her way for redemption.
Tea, glorious tea (and food)
When I first caught a glimpse of this book and its description, I knew I had to read it. You will not find me without a cup of tea (preferably hot and of the rooibos variety) nearby. So I am perhaps biased when I say that a I devoured every description of tea and food in this book. Lin does not disappoint with her descriptions. My mouth watered as I turned the pages, hearing about different Chinese inspired dishes and the different notes of tea leaves.
The magic of the tea is truly fascinating, and a magic system I have not yet read about, so I wish we could have focused all our attention on that. I love how the tea can be used to do wonderful things like let you relive memories, give you courage, or even break into someone’s thoughts. It made me sad to see the focus of a tea-making competition get distracted by the princess constantly having assassination attempts on her.
Plot goes brrrrrr
As mentioned before, the plot clips along at a fast pace, which I find to be most YA fantasy novels these days. How my heart wishes this could have been a cozier book about just magical tea making, but instead we get a breakneck plot about assassinations against the princess. So, while I wish the plot wasn’t so broad in its scope, but it does make sense with the kind of story its trying to tell.
And it is engaging, full of high stakes politics, murder, backstabbing, you name it. If you enjoy that kind of story, you will love this one!
Lastly, a theme that I do love about this book is that Ning is seeking redemption for what happened to her family. While the poisoned tea was not Ning’s fault, the fact that she was the one who served it her family weighs on her. It made me pity her and root for her, which I find increasingly hard for me to do in YA fantasy these days. In fact, I wish Lin would have dived even more to how that mentally would have affected Ning. I would have been overwhelmed with guilt beyond imagination.
With that said, I greatly look forward to the sequel of A Magic Steeped in Tea. If food related, epic fantasy is your cup of tea, then this story is absolutely for you.
A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin was released on March 29th, 2022.