This has been one of my most anticipated reads this year, and it rightfully deserves its instant #1 place on the New York Times Bestselling List! Thank you so much to Colored Pages Bookish Tours for the opportunity to talk about this book, and I’m so happy that my return to blog tours starts with this beauty. Please follow the rest of the blog tour through this schedule and this Twitter thread.
This is actually a two-part stop, with the other being an open letter to my favorite character Ning!
- Date of Publication: 29 March 2022
- Series: Book of Tea #1 (duology)
- Publisher: Fierce Reads || Feiwel and Friends
- Age Category: Young Adult
- Genre: Fantasy
- Cover Credits
- Art: Sija Hong
- Design: Rich Deas
Goodreads || StoryGraph || Amazon || Book Depository || Barnes and Noble || Blackwell
About the book
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.
On-page representation: Chinese-inspired worldbuilding and customs, BIPOC author (Taiwanese Canadian), F/F romance between side characters
Trigger and content warnings: death of a loved one (described vaguely), grief and mourning (central concept, character motivation), poverty, hunger, heavy taxation, war, poisoning
Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and my participation in this blog tour. This does not affect my opinion of the book. Since this is an uncorrected proof, please note that any quotations used in this post are subject to change in the finished copy.
I am a huge sucker for pretty descriptions AND a complex political drama, and if you like the same things, then check out this book! A Magic Steeped in Poison serves bitter court intrigue and slow-burning mystery in a dainty, beautiful serving that will have its readers both fulfilled and asking for more.
Right from the first page, one is immediately immersed in a worldbuilding that demands all of your five senses. Judy Lin transports us to Daxi with wondrous sights, tastes, and smells that leap off the page without being too overbearing or overly long. The tea, the music, the FOOD: everything makes me want to leave my boring room and be whisked away to this wonderland. However, the setting is not picture-perfect: discrimination, corruption, and injustice exist in this world. Lin creates a world that *can* be lived in and is every bit as complex as ours—one that carefully accounts for all the factors that shape the characters’ roles and place in society.
This luscious worldbuilding does take up a lot of space; as a result, the pacing of the plot is quite slow. But the author takes this time to gradually build the stakes of the conflict and introduces many aspects that shore up tension even more: the cruelty and corruption of local government officials, the discrimination towards people from provinces further from the capital, the crushing weight of taxes, the carefully woven revisionist history, the restrictions of palace life, and so much more. Instead of long exposition sections, each character embodies a piece of Daxi’s history. All the clues planted in every step of the story come back full circle, and though nothing is entirely unexpected or novel, the resulting actions still hit hard because readers have the fullest sense of the stakes involved.
The plot and the worldbuilding go hand in hand to highlight the best part of this book: its character arcs. No one here conforms to a cookie-cutter cardboard trope because even minor characters are given history and agency. You cannot deny Ning’s motivations for her decisions, nor Zhen’s restrictions in pursuing the truth. Yang, Minwen, and Lian are all very aware of their social status and that of their families. Though not as fleshed out, the loyalties of the ministers and other shennong-tu are clear and logical according to their backgrounds and affiliations. Everyone is acting in the only way they believe is right, and if you have ever been in a position that pushes you to pay a heavy price for your family, then you know how hard it is to judge others’ actions. I truly love the care Judy Lin puts into writing these characters, and the craft needed to pull this part off is amazing.
Related: An Open Letter to Ning
I also love how cultural icons are wielded in this world because they are shown at exactly the right context for them to have significance in the story, like Ning’s impromptu poetry recitation or Kang’s wistfulness for the art of his people. I wish I were more familiar with Chinese and Taiwanese culture to note all the callbacks and references, but as it stands, these narrative choices beautifully illustrate the escalating tension and emotional impact.
My only gripe in this book would be the romance between Ning and Kang. Although it is not insta-love, it still feels a little bit too fast-paced. It feels like I skipped too many scenes and got right to the highs, which is why some personal stakes don’t hit as hard. Still, the romance is still better written than some YA books I have read recently, and it does nothing to diminish the complex character arcs Ning and Kang individually go through.
On the lighter side of things, A Magic Steeped in Poison makes me appreciate the art of tea-making. Although I love tea, much of my experience with preparing it myself just involves heating hot water in a kettle and steeping a bag of Twinings or dumping a sachet of 3-in-1 cardamom karak in a mug. I don’t come from a culture with an elaborate tea heritage, and reading all about the intricacies of water, leaves, curing, and even storage makes me want to try non-instant tea.
When I started this book, I had a steaming cup of tea—a poor substitute for the wonders Ning describes, but tea nonetheless—refilled it with a fresh brew, then promptly forgot about my next cup because I was too invested in the characters. I can’t wait to read the sequel to see how all of these things will unfold, and I’ll be ready with better tea when it arrives.
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.
Connect with Judy I. Lin: Goodreads || Website || Twitter || Instagram
- Have you read A Magic Steeped in Poison yet? Scream with me in the comments!
- What’s your favorite tea drink?
Thank you for dropping by! Don’t forget to follow the rest of the tour through this schedule and this Twitter thread.
4 thoughts on “[Blog Tour] Review: A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin”
[…] Inkhaven – Character Letter […]
[…] This is part of a series called Margin Letters, where I write open letters to fictional characters of content I love. This particular installment is a stop on the blog tour organized by Colored Pages Bookish Tours. Please read my non-spoiler review here. […]
This sounds really good! And the cover is beautiful!
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Aaaaaaaa I do hope you can read it too!