Book Review: A Venom Dark and Sweet by Judy I Lin

A great evil has come to the kingdom of Dàxi. The Banished Prince has returned to seize power, his rise to the dragon throne aided by the mass poisonings that have kept the people bound in fear and distrust.

Ning, a young but powerful shénnóng-shi—a wielder of magic using the ancient and delicate art of tea-making—has escorted Princess Zhen into exile. Joining them is the princess’ loyal bodyguard, Ruyi, and Ning’s newly healed sister, Shu. Together the four young women travel throughout the kingdom in search of allies to help oust the invaders and take back Zhen’s rightful throne.

But the golden serpent still haunts Ning’s nightmares with visions of war and bloodshed. An evil far more ancient than the petty conflicts of men has awoken, and all the magic in the land may not be enough to stop it from consuming the world…

The second in the ‘Book of Tea’ duology I was delighted when this published just as I had finished A Magic Steeped in Poison (you can see my review for that here) and I decided to get this one and carry straight on with the story.

I still enjoyed this book but having read both I feel it may have been better to leave a bit of a gap between the two – although our characters are all here and the story wraps up nicely by the end the two books had a different feel to them.

The first was set primarily at court with Ning showcasing her magic through the wonderfully described tea ceremonies where we literally got to see magic happen. Venom has a very different pace with a lot of travel and battles, out characters often off on separate journeys. We didn’t get to spend as much time with the wonderful tea magic either.

The split in narrators worked well, it let us see what was happening across the country at the same time and see what both ‘camps’ were doing. Both Ning and Kang had distinct voices and their chapters balanced well.

I liked the fact we delved a bit more into the mythology of the world learning more about the Gods, it fitted in well with what we had learned of the magic system in the first book.

All in all a satisfying conclusion to the story – but on balance I think the first book was slightly better.