After a number of books involving significant conflict and violence, I wanted to make a return to some calmer action hopefully with some political activity or slice-of-life akin to “Legends and Lattes.” Turns out I found one, so let’s check it out!
As usual here is a summary provided by the author/publisher and then some content warnings to get us started. Remember that anything beyond that is going to to have mild spoilers.
When the fourth princess of Istalam is due to dedicate herself to a path serving the crown, she makes a choice that shocks everyone, herself most of all: She leaves. In hiding and exiled from power, Miyara finds her place running a tea shop in a struggling community that sits on the edge of a magical disaster zone. But there’s more brewing under the surface of this city—hidden magic, and hidden machinations—that threaten all the people who’ve helped her make her own way. Miyara may not be a princess anymore, but with a teapot in hand she’ll risk her newfound freedom to discover a more meaningful kind of power.
CWs to keep in mind when picking up A Coup of Tea:
Systemic/institutional discrimination based on ethnic/cultural origin or innate magical abilities, Refugees, Gentrification/NiMBYs, Non-graphic Violence, Poverty, Magically-related natural disasters, Political/social manipulation and intimidation, loss of hope or sense of self-worth. This story features several LGBTQ+ major characters in described or off-screen heterosexual & homosexual romantic relationships. There is no sexual activity beyond kissing described or implied.
My Impressions (mild spoilers)
It is not every day that you come across a story like this. Much of the plot is centered around a cultural tradition where individuals recognized as “Tea Masters” are given a great deal of social clout and legal protections. While they are renowned for their honed skill in enacting this culture’s tea ceremony, they appear to play an even bigger role as mediators, advisors and councilors. Miyara has significant training in cultural rituals because of her background, so she decides to to achieve this prestigious position to best help out everyone in her new home.
As you can imagine, things do not go smoothly for anyone.
One thing that I really appreciated was the development of the intense romantic relationships in the story. They are not constantly front and center, though they both are critical sub-plots. They do not feel particularly rushed despite the 1-2 months of in-story time that seems to take place in the book and Casey takes care to show emotions through a wide series of more subtle actions before people begin verbalizing their feelings. It really gives it the feel of a piece of Regency or Romantic Movement literature.
I also really appreciate that, when exposed to people who are being discriminated against, Miyara recognizes that she is in a position of privilege because of her legal knowledge, her social standing as a aspirant to tea mastery, and her ethnic/cultural background. She seems to truly act like an earnest Ally, at least most of the time. She is willing to cooperate with the community in question from early on, takes advice on how to best advocate, leverages her privilege to ask the hard questions, and sacrifices to get real change to occur. This is not to say she is perfect. She does have a blind spot when it comes to others among her new friends who are disadvantaged for other reasons, but she learns from that experience and I believe it makes her a better ally later down the line.
All in all, I definitely recommend checking out this book if you love reading about artistry and ritual, challenging the status quo for social change, cats and cat-like pets, found family, slow-burn romance, and high-stakes political action.