A Magic Steeped in Poison is a YA fantasy that follows Ning, who is an apprentice teamaker (shennong-shi) in a world where teamaking is magic. She was an apprentice to her mother, but one day accidentally brews the tea that poisons and kills her. Her sister did not die, but is gravely ill and fading fast. Amidst a rash of poisonings across the country, and Ning’s frantic attempts to cure her sister, the government announces that they are looking for the greatest shennong-shi in the country, who will earn a favor from the princess, and become the imperial shennong-shi. Ning begins to see this as the only way she might be able to save her sister and sets off to the imperial city to enter the competition, despite not having completed her training.
I have slowly been dipping my toes back into the pool of YA fantasy, but only with much caution. I have been burned so many times! But I’m glad I decided to give this one a go. The worldbuilding is creative and detailed, the characters are fleshed out and interesting, and the plot wasn’t exactly like every other YA fantasy on the market. It surprised me. That said, this isn’t my new favorite story or anything like that, just a really well done book! I’m very curious to see how Lin will end the story, and I hope she ends it as well as she began it.
My only complaint is probably just personal preference, but the romance here did absolutely nothing for me. I really wish YA authors (or editors or publishers, whoever) would publish more books without romance in them; not every book needs one! Luckily here the rest of what was going on was so interesting I could easily overlook or ignore the romantic elements.
I’m hopeful that I can get to the sequel soon, before I forget too much about this one.