A Magic Steeped in Poison | ARC Review

A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin

Published: March 29, 2022

Format: E-book ARC 📱

Tags: Young Adult, Fantasy, Mythology, Chinese-Inspired, Mystery

| Synopsis from the Publisher |

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.

Keywords to describe this book:

I received a complimentary Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, Feiwel & Friends through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

~My Thoughts~

📖 Content 📖 |


One of the coolest aspects about this book, for me, is the magic system. While it’s not exactly well-defined, I didn’t really mind, because I just felt like it was so cool and fluid. Some people in this world are born with an affinity for magic, and the practice of making tea seems to be a conduit for this magic, creating a bridge between the drinkers and allowing the “magician” to be able to make certain things happen. Different people have different areas of focus or ability. Ning’s magic is very scent and plant based. She can smell things really well and she can communicate on some level with plants.

I really enjoyed seeing this magic unfold in various ways throughout the book and it’s one of the things that really made me appreciate the fantasy aspect of this world. I definitely felt transported while reading the book, which is an important part of fantasy, for me.

👑 Political/Royal intrigue!

I am definitely a sucker for courtly drama, and this book has it in spades. Not only does the main character end up having to dodge the threat of unhappy royalty, she also ends up working with/for the princess, which is pretty neat. Much of this book focuses on the political instability of the kingdom and how the position of the shennong-shi plays into this. I like how the backdrop for this tournament to find the next royal shennong-shi is this political drama that is woven in with the royalty drama. A bit of the romance element (what little there is) is also tied in with it as well, which was fun to read!

👭 A varied cast of lovable characters

Huge bonus for me about this book is the sheer number of women central to the story. Ning is an amazing MC, but I also love the other people surrounding her. The princess is very cool/aloof and appears unlikable at first, but she definitely grows on you. I also love the serving staff at the palace, too, who all have their own worries, but do their best to help one another. Ning’s friend she makes during the competition, Lian, is also just such a cutie! She’s spunky and so giving. I loved seeing the friendship between her and Ning grow.

| 📝 Literary Value 📝 |

I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think a large part of that has to be due to the writing. I think Lin does an excellent job of giving life to the magic her characters use, making it feel very real. I found myself easily imagining the scenes she writes, which made it very pleasing to read. With complex, interesting characters and a well-formed mystery plot, I think the book is very readable and transports you into another world.

That being said, I could tell as I was getting to the end that this book would have a sequel, as it ends on a cliffhanger (not my favorite thing!), so I would say that, reading it, it doesn’t stand on it’s own quite, since the ending leaves you with no other choice but to read the next one. Not that I mind, too much, since I enjoyed this book enough to want to keep reading. I just have to dock a point for leaving me in such a vulnerable state!

| 🎭 Entertainment Factor 🎭 |

I found this book very entertaining. I enjoy books that create anticipation and tension based on a competition. This book gave me that, plus the added political/royalty intrigue that had me looking for clues about assassins and killers. This book is pretty plot-centric, which definitely helps move it along, so I easily kept turning pages. I think it also has a lot of likable characters that made the reading fun, as well. I usually have a hard time reading books where I don’t like/connect with the main characters, so it was really fun to read a book that has so many lovable characters.

Read Alikes:

| The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh | The Red Palace by June Hur | Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim |

| My Rating |

Definitely Worth the Read

Not only does this book have a gorgeous cover, it is also a gorgeously written fantasy story centered around women. I love how Lin uses the art of tea to create a unique, inspired magic system that feels so fresh and intriguing. I absolutely love how Lin weaves her fantasy story around the elements of making tea, using the basis of Chinese medicine to create such an intricate, delicate magic that is integral to the plot and the main character’s sense of self.

Ning is such an endearing protagonist. I love how much fire and passion she has, not just for her craft, but also for protecting those she loves. Her story really pulled me in and I enjoyed seeing her progress through the story, fighting to save her sister, but also striving to prove herself and her art, despite having humble origins. This story is as much about the underdog as it is about a quest to save a loved one, and Lin’s storytelling ability really captured my attention and made me want to keep reading.

I love the varied cast of characters, but especially that the main focus is on female characters and their work, together, to fight to save their kingdom and its people. Though there is a minor romance, I like that Lin does not put much focus on it, rather letting it stay a minor plot point. So many YA novels, I feel, make romance a major element, when it doesn’t really need to be. This is a fantasy story that largely focuses on the protagonist and the friends she makes along the way and their struggles. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book.

Both the writing and the plot elements to this story are strong. Lin gave me exactly what I wanted in a fantasy story, so I’ll definitely be waiting eagerly for the sequel to this book. Just a heads up, this book ends on a major cliffhanger, so be prepared. I know I wasn’t!

How about you?

Let me know what you think! If you’ve read A Magic Steeped in Poison, share your thoughts! If not – are you going to read it or pass on it? Tell me all about it in the comments. Keep up the reading!

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4 thoughts on “A Magic Steeped in Poison | ARC Review

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