A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Glossary of medicinal plants used, with Chinese and Latin names, from modern and ancient sources. Author's note clarifies that modern practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine use the plants differently than in the book. Author's note also provides original sources for a philosophical question and a poem that appear in the story. Glossary provides character and place names in English and Chinese.
Staying loyal to family, friends, and just causes might call for big sacrifices, but receiving love and loyalty in return can see you through dark times.
Positive Role Models
Ning is a model of communication, courage, and perseverance. She speaks her mind truthfully, bravely leaves home and enters an unknown and very intimidating world to save her sister, and is determined to see the competition through to the end. Lian is a true friend, loyal and supportive. Most other important characters' motives are hidden, making it hard to know their true nature.
All characters in a fantasy world are Asian, with different skin tones and hair textures mentioned occasionally. A minor character is in a same-sex marriage, and an important character is in a same-sex relationship. Women hold positions of power and authority in civilian, government, and military contexts.
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Violence & Scariness
Real-world violence includes fighting hand-to-hand; using weapons like swords, arrows, knives, and staffs; and torture by beating. Blood and pain from injuries are described but not in gory detail. Pain, suffering, and death from poisoning is a prominent theme in the real world and from fantasy elements. As part of a contest, fantasy animals are poisoned, their suffering is described, and then they're magically cured.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A few kisses and some mild romantic dynamics.
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The word "whores" used once.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Tea has magical powers that evoke strong emotions, heighten senses, and cause visions, and can be used as poison. A teen drinks wine once. Adults drink to excess a couple of times and exhibit aggressive behavior while drunk.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Judy I. Lin's A Magic Steeped in Poison is a fantasy set in a world based on ancient China, in which a teen travels to the Imperial Palace to try to save her sister, who's slowly dying from poisoned tea. Violence in the real and fantasy worlds includes fights and torture that mention suffering, blood, and pain, but there's no gory detail. Fantasy animals are poisoned and cured as part of a competition. Romance includes a couple of kisses and some mild romantic dynamics. A teen drinks a small amount of wine, and a couple of times adults drink to excess and behave aggressively. Grief from parental loss and separation is a prominent theme. "Whore" is used once.
Is It Any Good?
This is a unique and vividly realized magical fantasy set in an intriguing and well-developed world. A Magic Steeped in Poison combines elements of political intrigue, family, friendship, romance, and more in a compelling story that keeps the pages turning.
Debut novelist Judy I. Lin is at her best describing the inner workings of the palace kitchen, the sumptuous food prepared there, and the sights and scents of the magical tea ingredients. Teens will relate to Ning as she learns how to navigate authority, friendship, betrayal, and a swoon-worthy romance. Fans will be eager for the next planned installment after the cliffhanger ending.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Our Editors Recommend
Thrilling Books for Teens Who Love Fantasy
Books with Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Characters
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