Tea is a beverage that is infused with history. There are records of people brewing and consuming tea possibly as far back as the 2nd century BC, but the drink was not popularized until the Tang Dynasty of ancient China. It has been used as currency, exported in trade, and the tea plant—Camellia sinensis—was transplanted throughout the world and cultivated to produce different varieties. With experimentation and development of cultivars and processing techniques, this resulted in the wide selection we have today: from the delicate flavors of white tea to the strongly-fermented and aged Pu-erh.
During the process of working on A Magic Steeped in Poison, I was inspired by the ritual of preparing a cup of tea in the Taiwanese tradition and I also paid homage to its origins as a medicinal ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is a drink that is present in my daily life, and I had so much fun imagining various magical properties that a practitioner of tea magic would be able to utilize. There were so many different types of tea that I encountered during my research that I wished I could have incorporated.
Here are a few of my favorite types of teas and five books that I would pair with them to enhance your reading experience!
Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim
In this delightful story filled with tea and French pastries, Vanessa travels to Paris to learn how to manage her ability to see people’s fortunes from their tea leaves. She uses her talents to help the people around her, and also regains control of her own destiny. Vanessa’s relationship with her family, especially her gossiping aunts, provide just enough light-hearted humor to balance out Vanessa’s internal struggles.
It was wonderful to visit tea shops and patisseries with Vanessa, and I loved the little magical details that were woven into the story—like the flavors that she tasted while a fortune formed. It was a sensory experience as fragrant as a cup of honey chrysanthemum tea accompanied by a strawberry mille-feuille.
Sisters of the Snake by Sarena and Sasha Nanua
A fun reimagining of The Prince and the Pauper, this story is about two sisters: one a princess, and one an urchin, whose lives come together in a thrilling way when they decide to switch places. This was such an action-packed book where the sisters, in their new roles, must solve mysteries within and outside of the palace. Rani is the princess who feels confined by the walls of the palace and her family’s expectations, while Ria steals food in order to not starve. Ria is then faced with the reality of being conscripted for a war she wants no part of. Each sister had their own unique talents, their own goals, and I can’t wait to find out how their stories will resolve in the sequel.
What I enjoyed the most about the read is that the world was so immersive in this fantasy. The stories interwoven throughout the book provided glimpses into the history of the magic. Abai was described vividly, from the chases through the marketplace, the setting of the palace, and also the various types of food…it was easy to feel hungry when reading this book. Descriptions of fluffy naan and various sweets, great when paired with a warm cup of masala chai!
The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
This is a story about a sorceress who secretly practices her craft, yet must secure a good marriage to save her family. It is about choices and finding your own path as a woman in society, in a magical version of Regency England. The descriptions of the fashions, the balls, and the magic were wonderful, but such beautiful descriptions only enhance the horror of a society where women are collared to cut them off from their magic so that their unborn children will be safe. Beatrice is an easy heroine to root for. She struggles with her loyalty to her family, her personal ambitions as well as the desires of her heart. A perfect read to be enjoyed with a tray of frosted cakes and a cup of Earl Grey tea.
Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves by Meg Long
This was an exhilarating read about a girl who is forced to join a sled race on a frozen planet. She develops a close relationship with her companion wolf, and she will have to do whatever is necessary in order to survive the challenging environment. There are some truly thrilling scenes where Sena has to put herself in dangerous situations to fight for her life as well as save Iska, or where Iska repays her in turn by saving her life as well. It felt like I was immersed in an action movie. Although Sena is more likely to drink beer than tea, the descriptions of the frigid world and the ice storms definitely made me consume several steaming mugs of smoky Lapsang souchong while reading.
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
A bold retelling of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty where Emperor Hongwu is reimagined as a girl who was supposed to be destined for a fate of nothingness. But Zhu takes her brother’s supposed fate for herself and breaks free of her life of poverty to become a monk, then rises through the ranks of the rebel forces fighting the swiftly collapsing Yuan empire.
Another point of view explored is that of the eunuch general Ouyang. Forced to fight for the Mongol army, his existence is one of contradictions. He is torn between loyalty and vengeance, cruelty and desire. The choices they make have effects that are felt throughout the empire, and yet we are still able sympathize with their struggles. Zhu and Ouyang’s paths cross again and again, like violent waves crashing against a stony cliff, and I am waiting to be emotionally devastated by the sequel.
This is a brutal, tragic, and yet hopeful book, the destinies of the two protagonists unfurling beautifully just like the leaves in a cup of High Mountain Oolong.
Judy I. Lin was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now works as an occupational therapist and still spends her nights dreaming up imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter. A Magic Steeped in Poison is her debut novel.