The enthralling conclusion to Judy I. Lin’s Book of Tea duology—A Magic Steeped in Poison and A Venom Dark and Sweet—is sure to enchant fans of Adrienne Young and Leigh Bardugo.
A great evil has come to the kingdom of Dàxi. The Banished Prince has returned to seize power, his rise to the dragon throne aided by the mass poisonings that have kept the people bound in fear and distrust.
Ning, a young but powerful shénnóng-shi—a wielder of magic using the ancient and delicate art of tea-making—has escorted Princess Zhen into exile. Joining them is the princess’ loyal bodyguard, Ruyi, and Ning’s newly healed sister, Shu. Together the four young women travel throughout the kingdom in search of allies to help oust the invaders and take back Zhen’s rightful throne.
But the golden serpent still haunts Ning’s nightmares with visions of war and bloodshed. An evil far more ancient than the petty conflicts of men has awoken, and all the magic in the land may not be enough to stop it from consuming the world…
Content Warning: violence, fight scenes, witnessed torture, death, disturbing events (mutilation,body horror, forced suicide, possession, and fire)
I received a copy of this book from the publisher Feiwel and Friends as part of the A Venom Dark and Sweet book blog tour through TBR and Beyond.
This review will contain spoilers for book one, A Magic Steeped in Poison.
Lin returns to this world of tea magic in a world inspired by the Song dynasty era of Chinese history and what a delight it is. Lin’s lush descriptions of settings, food (omg the food), architecture, and more return just as strongly.
In book two, Princess Zhen is on the run from the usurper Banished Prince, and Ning must find a way to help restore her to the throne. Meanwhile, Kang finds himself in conflict between the Ning he met during the shengnong-shi competition and the one on the run from the state, as the Banished Prince, and his dad, has declared her a practitioner of more evil magics. All the while, older magics yet have begun to stir, with Ning repeatedly dreaming of the serpent she glimpsed at the end of book one.
I was initially pulled towards this series because of the tea magic, and I love that in book, two, Lin directs the focus towards medicinal teas. Traditional herbal Chinese medicine still plays such a big role in Chinese culture today and I loved how Lin highlighted so many different herbs and their different uses. Also Ning making full use of the tea alignment chart cracked me up.
My favorite part of this book is the inclusion of Kang’s POV. Kang was such an interesting character in book one, the mysterious prince who went into exile with his father, only to return with suspicious motivations. I loved his arc of conflict between loyalty to the father than he loves and the growing suspicious he has with his father’s new government and the people supposedly serving him.
My biggest issue with this book is the pacing. Frankly, book two could have easily been split into two books for a full trilogy. While book one is nicely contained to the tea competition and Princess Zhen on the run at the very end, book has to cram Kang’s father taking over, Ning’s attempts to unlock the secrets behind the poisoned tea bricks from book one, and the growing influence of older mythological beings. There’s so much going on that I wish we were able to spend more time with each individual element without being rushed to the next.
Overall, I rate this book a 4./5. I loved the emphasis on medicinal teas and Kang’s conflicted POV, but I think this series could have benefited from being a trilogy instead of a duology.
About the Author
Judy I. Lin was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now works as an occupational therapist, and still spends her nights dreaming up imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter. A Magic Steeped in Poisonis her debut novel.
r/Fantasy 2022-23 Bingo Squares:
- Revolutions and Rebellions (hard mode)
- Cool Weapon w/magical properties
- Author Uses Initials
- Published in 2022
- BIPOC Author
- Features Biological Family Ties (hard mode)
Publication Date: 23 August 2022
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Format: eBook, ARC
Word Count: ~92,000
Buy It Here: Amazon | Google Books | B&N | Book Depository | Indigo | IndieBound | Goodreads
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