Book review · novella

Book review: The Tea Master and the Detective

The Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya), by Aliette de Bodard

Description: (from Aliette De Bodard’s website)

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…

It’s always both of a joy and a heartbreak to me to see a favourite author publishing a book through Subterranean Press because it means they’ll get a magnificant hardback in limited edition but also that it will be expensive and the cheaper alternative – the ebook – won’t be available to buy for non-US people. So when Aliette De Bodard announced she was making it possible to buy an ebook copy outside the U.S. I was ecstatic and pre-ordered as soon as I could!

I had been meaning to try out one of her stories from her Universe of Xuya for a while and since everthing seems to stand on its one, that’s the one I started with! The idea of a Chinese and Vietnamese galactic empires is amazing and after finishing The Tea Master and the Detective I decided that I was going to read everything available.

What first drew me in The Tea Master was the promise of a gender swap take on Sherlock and Watson, the later being a mindship and the “tea master” from the title. All of this in SPACE because why stop at only one amazing thing? *heart eyes*

In this world, spaceships are people as well, space is even more scary and mysterious than I’d ever read before and most human brains can’t handle it. That’s why drugs are being used when going out there and our main character (having been discharged from the military after a traumatic event) started specialising in this trade to pay the rent. This mention of “rent” leads me to reassure you that Mrs Hudson’s alter ego also is present in this story under the name of Bao and is just as kind and witty as the one we’re familiar with.

The mystery starting by Long Chau questioning how the human body reacts to deep space, the realisation that The Shadow’s Child is not actually and AI, the themes of belonging, fear and curiosity… Everything was very well thought of and compelling, making this novella a short and enthralling read.

Throughout the novella I loved The Shadow’s Child insistance on doing the right thing, her love of books and her care for other humans. Her relationship with Long Chau was as chaotic as I could imagine and hope for. I’m now hoping for MORE stories with these two, the sherlock/watson dynamic is amazing and totally refreshed by this change of scenery, gender and personhood. All in all, my favourite Sherlock Holmes retelling as of today ❤

She could have hovered over poeple’s shoulders like a pet or a children’s toy, as was the fashion amongts the older shipminds. But she’d lived through a war, an uprising and a famine, and she was done with diminishing herself to spare the feelings of others.


Content warning: ptsd, suicide ideation

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