‘The Tea Master and the Detective’ Book Review

Mount Readmore Book Review, 2018 19/200

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The Tea Master and the Detective By Aliette de Bodard

NetGalley Edition, given to me free for the purpose of review

Finished on 1/2/2018

Goodreads

Description: 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…

Genres: Sci Fi, Mystery,Asian-Inspired, Vietnamese- Inspired, Sherlock Holmes Inspired, High Concept Sci Fi

Imagine Sherlock Holmes and Watson, except it’s in space and Watson is the organic brain of a spaceship and Sherlock Holmes is a shady Detective who has done her best to erase her past from history.

Spoiler-free review

To start off with, I got this free from the publisher off NetGalley in exchange for a review.

I would highly recommend this to any fan of the science fiction genre who also likes mystery novels. What this book does it does well, and that is being a tribute to both Sherlock Holmes and the modern resurgence of feminist sci-fi. Allow me to explain.

This story is told from the perspective of The Shadow’s Child, the organic brain of a spaceship capable of traveling through an alternate dimension. The Shadow’s Child also likes making tea. The story starts when our Sherlock Holmes, who goes in the story by the pseudonym Long Chau, asks the spaceship to brew a cup of very special tea. From this point a tale of intrigue and murder unfolds, inside the cold vastness that is the unreality of the alternate dimension.

What I particularly liked was how the author played the Sherlock Holmes mythos straight. Long Chau was neither British nor a man, but in most other ways she  followed Sherlock Holmes’ personality and habits true. Where Holmes was a drug addict, so to was Long Chau. Where Holmes has a seedy reputation in world, so too does Long Chau. The plot of this novel itself reminds me of the first Sherlock Holmes mystery, ‘A Study in Scarlet,’ which I read just a few months ago.

The Watson of this novel is The Shadow’s Child, a traumatized human brain inside a metallic shell who dreads going into the alternate dimension, which is a setting for a large portion of this book’s plot. This character was quite wonderful, not least because she reminded me of Breq from the book ‘Ancillary Justice,’ for both are ships with a very human perspective.

But as always I like to include some constructive criticism in my reviews. I enjoyed this novella quite thoroughly, and perhaps that was my problem: I wanted more out of this amazing setting than a novella can give. It felt like we were just skimming the surface of a greater story, a galaxy spanning civilization which has the cultural hallmarks of some of Earth’s Asian civilizations, such as tea ceremonies, the frequent use of jade as a cultural touchstone and the importance of family. I wanted to know where the rest of Earth’s civilizations were! Are they out there somewhere too, or has Vietnam conquered the galaxy?! Whatever the answer, I do intend to read on in the series to find out.

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