Mini Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.

A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow’s Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow’s Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow’s Child with her.

As they dig deep into the victim’s past, The Shadow’s Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau’s own murky past–and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars… 

This is probably the first Xuya book I ever got to know about and it’s a Sherlock Holmes retelling, so I should have read it a long time ago. But I somehow was able to get the other books first, so here I am finally.

This was interesting. I thought it was a bit on the shorter side compared to the other Xuya novellas I’ve read, but I think the page count worked for this kind of story. It’s more like the first time meeting of the Holmes and Watson-esque characters in this universe – only the detective Long Chau is a woman and The Shadow’s Child is a mindship. Ofcourse their relationship starts off rocky because Long Chau comes across as arrogant and emotionless, as well as someone with a possible troubled past. The Shadow’s Child on the other hand suffered a traumatic event years ago and those memories and grief still haunt her. But to solve the case of the death of a woman, they have to reluctantly team up and both have to dig deep into their memories, and relive their pasts in order to save the day in the present. It’s a beautifully written story about grief and how there’s no one way to handle it in the long term, and how coping with it is all one can do sometimes, unable to move on. The mystery itself is not very fascinating or predictable and I was probably even confused for a bit. But it’s the characters and writing who make up for any small issues.

Overall, this felt like a cool setup story more than something on its own. And I think it will make for a great series of its own within Xuya. So I’m surprised the author hasn’t written anymore featuring these two wonderful characters. But I still look forward to anything the author comes up with in this setting because I’ve come to love this world of space empires and mind ships, peppered with Vietnamese culture.

4 thoughts on “Mini Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

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    1. I know the author is French Vietnamese, but I don’t know if any of these books have been written originally in French. I always assumed they are in English first.

      Liked by 1 person

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