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ARC Review: A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy Lin

Publication Date: March 29, 2022


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.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was such a good book! I knew from the stunning cover art that I was going to love it, and I wasn’t wrong. The writing was gorgeous and painted such lovely pictures, bringing the mythology to life. I’m fairly certain it was Chinese mythology and culture, though I don’t have the background to say for sure.

I love how Ning carries this sharpness inside her. She is sometimes overwhelmed with the glitz and plush life in the imperial city and the competition, but she always finds this core of steel and honed edge when she needs it. I also love how everything she does is for her sister.

This quote in particular really spoke to me and summed up Ning:

‘I am selfish, and I know now that I will no longer apologize for it. Let the world burn, if Shu can live.’

The political games and scheming were great, as were the details of the competition. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time and I’m really glad the next book is being released this fall because I don’t think I could wait a whole year after that ending.

The characters were all so great. It wasn’t clear whose side anyone was on or who Ning could trust. Except Lian. She was Ning’s friend and ally from the start and their friendship was really beautiful. I hope we get to see more of it in the next book. Kang is still very mysterious and I’m still not sure whose side he’s on, but I definitely look forward to seeing more of him and Ning together because they definitely had some chemistry.

The magic was so cool! It was tea-based which is something I haven’t really seen before. I was swept away by the gorgeous rituals and ceremony surrounding it.

Thanks to Bookishfirst and Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group/Feiwel & Friends for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

I am selfish, and I know now that I will no longer apologize for it. Let the world burn, if Shu can live.

How can I give another part of myself to someone else, when I already have so little to give?

“You are the first girl who has ever greeted me with a swift kick to the shins. The first girl who has ever made me feel… normal.”

“That is decidedly abnormal,” I tell him after a pause, not knowing how else to respond.

I’m not sure I would have been able to say something so reasonable about someone who threatened the people I love.

Yet his answers conjure more questions that worm their way through my mind.

Just like the palace itself, tunnels upon tunnels, leading nowhere, and no exit in sight.

Just like Steward Yang said, it is too easy to live this pampered life, this fantasy.

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