It is in the connection, the brief joining of souls.

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When I first stumbled upon this book, I knew from the cover alone I needed to read it, but the "female main character forced into a competition full of betrayal and intrigue in an attempt to (throw in a plot point here)" seemed a little overplayed.

Boy, was I wrong.

Ning mistakenly takes her mother's life when she brews a poison tea, a tea that now is also slowly killing her sister, Shu. Her only hope of saving her sister is to enter a competition that the kingdom's princess is holding for all magical tea-makers to be the next royal shennong-shi. The winner of this competition will be able to ask for one favor, and that could mean getting the help that her sister needs to survive.

The world building Judy I. Lin crafts is magical and captivating. What initially started as seemingly slowly paced was ultimately perfect for the story, leaving small hints woven for you before the betrayal and angst catches you off guard. The characters are so charming and completely their own person, with fleshed out backstories and purpose. The competition itself wasn't what I am used to and instead was used to flesh out the lore of the story. My only complaint, shockingly, falls on the romance. I crave slow burn and it felt almost instant.

A beautiful story with the haunting themes of grief and determination to do anything it takes to save those you love.