Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!
I really enjoyed the first book in the Book of Tea duology, A Magic Steeped in Poison, because of its unique magic system and immersive world. Lucky for us, book 2 came out mere months after Magic (HOW), so I got to get my hands on Venom somewhat soon after reading book 1. However, a lot of what I loved about Magic was watered down in the sequel—Lin’s writing remained strong, but a good portion of what made Magic so unique had been sidelined.
Tread lightly! This review may contain spoilers for A Magic Steeped in Poison. If you haven’t read it and intend on doing so, read at your own risk.
For my review of book 1, A Magic Steeped in Poison, click here!
After the Banished Prince returns to take his place on the throne of Dàxi, Ning and the other exiled royals are forced into hiding. Evading the Prince’s systematic tea poisonings across the kingdom, it’s up to Ning to expose the fraud and treachery of the new ruler. But an even greater evil lurks in the shadows, and if Ning and her newfound allies can’t stop the hostile takeover of their kingdom, they may fall to an even worse fate than they could have ever imagined.
TW/CW: fantasy violence, death, substance abuse, torture
I really wished I liked A Venom Dark and Sweet more than I did; the series was off to such a strong start with A Magic Steeped in Poison, but this sequel bordered on lackluster in comparison. Without the novelty of the unique elements that made book 1 so memorable, there wasn’t much else to carry the plot, save for Lin’s excellent writing; nevertheless, it was still entertaining.
As with Magic, Judy I. Lin’s beautiful writing was the strongest point of the whole novel. Her prose continues to be as lush and immersive as the world she created, and even when the plot faltered, Lin’s words carried it afloat until the end of the book. It wasn’t quite enough to overshadow the weaker aspects of this book, but it gets an extra half-star from me—it largely picked up the slack of the rest of the book.
However, the rest of Venom didn’t seem to have much to it. Most of the book seemed to just be the two parties skirting around each other/trying to avoid getting killed, and it just felt like 350-odd pages of a wild goose chase. After how compelling the political intrigue and the magic system of Magic were, I expected so much more from this book, but there seemed to be hardly any payoff to anything that happened in book 1. We did get some bits of fascinating worldbuilding (the bamboo forest, for one, we needed more of that), but they were delivered in such brief, fleeting chunks that they left me feeling disappointed. It was decent on its own, but I just wanted more—more exploration of the world, more exploration of the magic system, more stakes.
And speaking of no payoff…did Lin just forget that she was teasing a romance between Ning and Kang? Venom was told in dual POVs between the two of them, but they didn’t end up meeting until about the 95% mark and then…nothing really happened? My issue isn’t that they were just platonic (in fact, I’d be all for that), but given that Lin was teasing a romance between them for a good portion of Magic, I really wished there had been some sort of resolution.
All in all, a promising sequel with beautiful prose, but a lackluster conclusion to the duology as a whole. 3.5 stars.
A Venom Dark and Sweet is the final book in the Book of Tea duology, preceded by A Magic Steeped in Poison. Judy I. Lin is also the author of the forthcoming Song of the Six Realms, slated for release in 2024.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!