Review posted October 9, 2022
Listening Library, 2022. 11 hours, 12 minutes.
Review written September 19, 2022, from a library eaudiobook
The first thing I need to say about this book is that it's one of those where the story doesn't finish at all. In fact, it ends right at a point where things are looking bad for the main character. However, the good news is that the second volume is already out, and the literature says it's a duology. So I plan to finish the story soon.
But the story is a good one -- magical and imaginative, all about magic inherent in tea as well as the skills of the person making and pouring the tea.
The book begins as Ning is preparing to go to the capital city to compete to be the court shennong-shi -- the best in the art of wielding the magic of tea. The winner of the competition will be granted a favor from the princess. And Ning thinks this is her only chance to save her sister Shu, who is desperately ill, having been poisoned with the same tainted tea that killed their mother.
Shu was the one who trained to be their mother's apprentice in the arts of shennong-shi. But Ning learned many of those skills, as well as some of the art of their father, a physician.
When she gets to the palace, there's plenty of contempt among the other competitors for girls from a rural province, but Shi befriends another like herself. She encounters a handsome stranger who turns out to be part of the imperial family -- the part that is in rebellion to the emperor.
Besides the competition, which is full of creative and challenging ways for Ning to use her gifts, the book is full of court intrigue and danger. Ning wants to find out who was responsible for the poisoned tea that killed her mother. And then she needs to combine her physician skills with shennong-shi to save a life. But her skills may put her in grave danger.
I'm glad I listened to this audiobook, because I wouldn't have known the correct pronunciations for many words, and the narrator did a nice job pulling me into the story. The original magic made this a fantasy tale that stood out, and Ning's a character who's resourceful and unstoppable. This book left her in a bad place, and I very much want to read on and discover how she gets out of it.