A Magic Steeped in Poison — Judy I. Lin
A Magic Steeped in Poison admittedly started out as a cover buy (I spend an absurd amount of time staring at Sija Hong’s art), but I am so glad I picked it up! It kept me company while I was sick in bed, lusting after magic healing tea.
As you can imagine, brewing magic healing tea is an art that takes years to master. It is a mixture of skill, ingredients, knowledge, and creativity—balance, in other words, which in my opinion is what this book does beautifully. There are quite a few tropes at work here (you have the commoner in a palace, a mysterious love interest, and a plucky ahead-of-her-time MC), but they simply don’t feel overdone or exaggerated.
In good measure, much like brewing a cup of tea, the elements—characterizations, plot, and world-building—work together to move the story forward. A rich world with no info-dumping, instead complemented by a story that does not rely too much on magicking and plot devices. Characters layered enough to understand struggle, but whose angst does not get in the way of the storytelling. This balance clicked really well, and I enjoyed blasting through this world.
The story was appealing to me, even from the blurb: Ning takes part in a magic tea brewing competition and in the process discovers secrets involving court intrigue and betrayal. I was a bit hesitant when I read “…and a mysterious (and handsome) boy…” in the blurb, because I tend not to click with books that shove its romance to the forefront, despite cataclysmic events unfolding around them. A lot of YA fantasy I read usually goes overboard with the love triangle (or worse, everyone falling in love with the MC for simply existing), but here, everything felt natural, and I think the romance aspect was done in good doses.
The book handled dark themes, and there is a scene that felt decidedly more visceral than the others, but I would still consider it a quick and light read. I wish someone would make a video game about brewing magic tea.
Key words to help you decide: magic competition, single first-person POV, plucky female protagonist, Asian-inspired fantasy, court intrigue, mysterious love interest, commoner in a palace, YA fantasy, family, found family, brewing competition, rich vs. poor