A MAGIC STEEPED IN POISON by Judy I. Lin.
Titan Books. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Ning’s mother is dead, a victim of the tea poisonings that are spreading across the empire, and her sister will soon follow. Neither Ning nor her physician father has been able to stop the poison wracking her sister’s body and there is only one chance left. One risky chance that Ning must take. By imperial decree, the princess seeks a new shénnong-tú.
In the dead of night, with her sister’s blessing, Ning sneaks out from under her father’s nose and begins her journey to the capital, Jin, where she will hope to find help from the empire’s greatest healers and take her place among them. As Ning leaves her home, The Shadow is not far behind her.
Her journey to Jin is costly and far from smooth but with only her mother’s precious shénnong chest and her own determination, Ning secures her place in the competition. It will not be easy but everything Ning learned from her mother will strengthen her hand. As the dangerous contest begins, unfortunately, it seems her first step may be a grave misstep.
A Magic Steeped In Poison is a YA fantasy based on an original concept with its magic system rooted in ancient Chinese myth and medicine. The worldbuilding is exquisite; dragons, tigers, herbal remedies, tea ceremonies and food, are all richly described to bring this world to life. The story moves at a good pace and stays centred on Ning throughout.
As a heroine Ning is intelligent and generous, endearing on the page. Life in the palace is a stark contrast to her home and before long she finds herself in way over her head with dangerous tasks, caught up in political conspiracies and unsure who she can trust. There is just the right amount of tension and potential love interest and the book builds to a climax leaving the reader desperate for the next part of Ning’s tale.