This is such a beautiful book. From the gorgeous cover, to the beauty that lies within the pages, this is a book that is truly art. A Magic Steeped in Poison is the first in The Book of Tea duology, soon to be followed by A Venom Dark and Sweet.
The book reads like mythology, set a world that the author paints vividly. It’s very lyrical, almost having the feel of a song. The use of tea as a magical system is intricate and fascinating, weaving culture and fantasy together in such an engrossing way. The shénnóng-shi, essentially masters of their art, are the wielders of tea magic. Ning is a commoner, her mother a shénnóng-shi in their small village. Once they were far from the treachery of the Court, but someone has been poisoning tea leaves, spreading them around the country and creating unrest. Ning’s own mother has succumbed to the poison, and now her sister is ill, too. Her only choice is to find her way to the Court to take part in an intense competion, the prize being the honored position of shénnóng-shi of the Court. But Ning quickly realizes there is more at play than the cutthroat competition.
There are so many elements to love beyond the beautiful prose. The use of tea-making as the basis of magic is so unique, something that is an inherent part of Asian culture. The magic of it is found just as much in the ingredients the practioner uses as it is in the ritual itself, which felt very appropriate and beautiful. And there are hints of romance for Ning, even as she’s staked everything on winning the competition. There’s a certain beauty in seeing her burgeoning friendship with Lian, her roommate and fellow competitor. And it was wonderful to watch her grow in a world of which she’s never seen even a hint, learning and experiencing beyond the borders of her small village. But there are dark moments as well, those of intrigue, secrets, betrayal, and fear of failure. All of it weaves together a story that is impossible to put down.