A Magic Steeped In Poison (ARC Review)
by Judy I. Lin
I can still smell the aroma of all those times I was so drunk on the writing I forgot how to speak.
Spoiler Free- Synopsis:
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.
If I were to have written this book, it would have all been like: And there was tea. Lots of tea-
~👑Special thanks to Netgalley and Fierce Reads for the ARC in exchange for an honest review!👑~
I'm so happy with how this book ended.
Rating: 🫖🫖🫖🫖 4.3
That was sarcasm, by the way.
When I requested this ARC I was pretty certain that nothing was going to come of it. I've been rejected before on that subject, so I was ready. Well, I thought I was ready. And then... Natgalley and Fierce Reads (for the giveaway win *mom, dad! I actually won something other than failure!*) Actually noticed this fangirl screaming from the top of her lungs 'NO YEAH, TRY TO IGNORE ME. I CAN SING OFF PITCH IF YOU WANT TOO' and right now? I'm slightly giving them the side eye for not preparing me better for the journey I was about to embark on.
No umbrella for the fictitious tears.
No map for the jumble of emotions I was going to have to sort through.
No socks to embrace my cold feet when trying not to read this in hopes that it would stay as perfection in my mind and not as another hyped read that fell from the heavens to Tartarus.
forget everything i said up there, thank you
you still owe me therapy
And a way out of post good book funkiness
Every page, sentence and metaphor in this book was infused with such meaning and complexity that I felt somehow equally aghast and puzzled as to how a person could so perfectly describe things like THAT.
A normal meal? Nah, let's describe it like it's the final thing someone would ever taste and then add ✨sparkle✨ to it as well.
I read past midnight, people. I cannot be eating at that hour. But I did with this book.
I am still trying to make sense of everything that transferred in this book, please bear with me.
no really, i'm pulling these thread from literal fangirlnism as I go
The plot was spell binding and bewitching for me to watch unfold. Honestly, I thought it was similar to books I'd read previously. In terms of the whole 'main character' is forced to go into a competition in search for a cure or vengeance, later falls for some forbidden love interest and has to choose between that person and their mission. Yet the way it was described, how it fell into place in a mist of poison and magic, was what truly made this feel unique to me.
*screams into load of pillows because she can't try to seem sane for more time*
*fixes her wig and proceeds to continue*
IT WAS A MAGICAL TEA BREWING COMPETITION, Y'ALL. Nuh-uh, I was doomed to resist from the start.
I just realized I missed the opportunity of drinking tea whilst reading.
I hate myself right now.
The pace was properly thought out, not too fast nor too slow. Considering all the details that were woven into the story, I am really thankful the author didn't skim over some things because those small pearls spread throughout the worldbuilding really added the spark I long for when reading fantasy books. I was literally drooling as the things that didn't make sense fell into place, the betrayal, the angst, the wonderful way the pages tore me limb from limb and called me uneducated in 56 languages.
I obviously loved that last thing.
I'm pushing through with a nail at the edge of a cliff holding me up, I swear
I'm not even talking about the world building because there's so much to unpack, and I'm really not ready to faint again.
Okay wait, let me say one thing real quick.
HOW THE HECK DID THE AUTHOR SURVIVE SACRIFICING THEIR SOUL TO HADES--
Then after all that, how can I possibly forget about the writing. The star at the end of the world, the supernova, the black hole that exploded after I had to put down the book (yet again) so I could properly breathe through my 'how is this so perfect, what is this, how can I ever write something like this, how can I ever FIND something like this'. Did it work, though? Pfft, of course not. I still felt like a cloud being carried unto Mount Olympus to rest beneath the gods, I still felt like my world was gluing itself to the words spoken and described. Even when I didn't understand the language (there was a glossary at the end, and I was ever so smart to not search for it until I read the Acknowledgements. I know, I surprise myself too) the sentences burrowed beneath my skin with the delicacy of a dagger cutting away tissue.
It was entrancing and poignant and powerful and UGH, I wish I could have a whole recipe book of every dish and tea in this story.
I wish I had the letters to put together, so I could properly die again and again over the writing.
Oh wait, I actually do, wait a sec.
*pulls out katana sword*
*starts calmly cutting off fingers*
The writing deserved them.
Also yes, the visual does help a lot, doesn't it? (I'm not evil, I promise)
The characters were well-developed, lush in their background stories. Holding a torch to my previous favorite characters (ahem, Cardan. AHEM, JACK HUNTER) is never an easy thing to do, and I can happily say that they held a bit more than a candle and for that, I am forever thankful.
That sounded salty but I meant it. *smile like you're not in pain because those favorite characters will never ever pay attention to you)
The main character, Ning, was a courageous young woman that had more personality than a dehydrated piece of cloth so I'm on a high mountain right now. My standards for YA MCs keep lowering, I don't know what else to compare it to. She was smart (ish), so kind and goshdarnit I wished to have seen a more multidimensional development, yet I know the second book will add more to her. I knew her, but I didn't KNOW her. You get me? I don't even get myself but okay, we'll go with it. *snort* I want to know the intricate workings of her mind, not only surface level. Honestly? She was an extremely likable character most of the time, and I had no idea how much that meant to me until now, when I'm finally sitting down to write this review that for sure will cost me some sleep as I try to push along.
Following her, there are the background characters. Look at me using actual words and not GYUIJNHBGTYGUHINJH. It won't last, but I'm proud, pfft. They added this sort of flair to the story, with the different stories and experiences. They weren't talking cardboards, yet I didn't get overly attached (thank goodness) and I'm not mad about that. Going into this, I needed something light and something that wouldn't hold my heart hostage until the sequel and I accomplished my mission.
The only thing I had a problem with was the romance. I know, I'm notorious for hating romances even when I crave for them on a daily basis. I love steam, okay? It warms my freezing soul. It was too connection type of romance, string in between lives, I'm-offended-he doesn't-trust-me-even-when-we-just-met type, in other words... the trope I dread the most.
Insta hatred. For myself, but for them, it's insta love. For me to hate and for them to bond over. So nice! I despised that aspect with a passion. Is it too much to ask for them to fall for each other gradually? Without a 'we just met, but I already feel like we've known each other our whole lives' and well, without the 'after meeting five times, let's kiss please'.
Am I ranting? Absolutely... not. Just kindly expressing the vitriol I would throw up on that goshforsaken trope of the devil.
All it needs to do is choke in poison.
That is all.
On a closing note, if you don't mind the whole romance thing, I really liked this book! It was captivating, immersive, spine tingling with the food descriptions, haunting with the tragedy scent looming in the air of a coming war... I truly did enjoy every second of it. Even when I was gripping my heart in frustration at some dumb decisions some characters took, even when I ranted to one of my friends for about 15 minutes, even after all that. My breath is taken and for now, it can keep it.
Until I have the second book in my hands.
You thought I wouldn't lightly threaten people for the sequel? Oh darling, I may not be evil, but I still like to sharpen my claws from time to time.
On people who don't give me second books when THE FIRST ONE ENDS LIKE IT DID. EXCUSE ME NO. YOU GAVE ME THE WRONG BOOK-
All the mentions of food.
The way things flowed with the ease of a leaf in a light breeze.
All those tid bits that added so much to the story and left me gasping in delight.