The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard. ★★★1/2
Are you interested reading a gender-bent version of Sherlock Holmes? Where Watson is also a sentient spaceship? Then I suggest you get yourself a copy of The Tea Master and the Detective, a novella by Aliette de Bodard.
The Shadow’s Child has lost most of her family and now has an aversion to deep space after a brief, traumatic stint as a military transport. She’s taken up a career as a tea master, creating careful, individually tailored brews to help others as they travel through space. Then she receives an unusual client: Long Chau, an eccentric scholar and investigative detective seeking a brew to keep her mind sharp in the paralyzing effects of deep space. Long Chau wants to study the effects of deep space on human decomposition, but when The Shadow’s Child takes her out to test the brew and find a corpse, Long Chau insists they’ve a murder.
The Tea Master and the Detective takes place in the Xuya universe, which is home to many pieces of de Bodard’s short fiction. I would particularly recommend the short story “Immersion,” the novelette “The Waiting Stars,” and the novella On a Red Station, Drifting. None of the stories are direct sequels to each other, and as far as I know, none of them share characters. What unites them is the setting: a Vietnamese inspired culture, sentient mind-ships tied to particular families, and the oddities of deep space. I love the world building of this universe. It feels expansive and vast, like it exists beyond the edges of the page.
I really liked how The Tea Master and the Detective adapted Sherlock Holmes. For one, it’s really cool to see gender-bent versions of both iconic characters. But I also liked how The Shadow’s Child was characterized and how a mind ship was used as a protagonist. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of a space ship with PTSD before. Her character arc was probably the most compelling in the story. Long Chau is mostly an enigma, although we do get more glimpses into her inner life towards the end of the story.
However, the story and characters didn’t have much of an impact on me. I didn’t find much interesting about the mystery, and I never became very attached to the characters. Although, I think I could become more attached to them if de Bodard wrote more stories about the pair (*fingers crossed!*).
While it’s not my favorite Xuya story, I’d still be interested in reading more about The Shadow’s Child and Long Chau.
I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.