Book review: The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard

10 03 2018

Aliette de Bodard is an American-born French science fiction and fantasy writer, of Vietnamese heritage, writing in English. Her work, which is variously informed by Aztec, Asian, and European cultural backgrounds, has won several awards including the Nebula, Locus, and BSFA awards. I’ve previously reviewed her novella On A Red Station, Drifting here.


The Tea Master and the Detective, another novella, is set in the same ‘Xuya’ universe (I think) as On A Red Station, Drifting, a spacefaring future dominated by Vietnamese heritage and mores. It concerns the hiring of troubled and impecunious shipmind The Shadow’s Child by the brusque and markedly arrogant consulting detective Long Chau, who wishes to acquire a corpse from the ‘deep spaces’ by which the shipmind is haunted following a horrific incident of years past. Long Chau’s interest in the corpse is ostensibly as a subject of research—she claims she wishes to understand the effect of deep spaces on human remains—but it transpires that the detective’s motives may be particular, rather than general. Affronted, traumatised by the necessity of revisiting deep spaces, but dependent on the detective’s coin, The Shadow’s Child does some digging of her own: since Long Chau apparently knows every shameful secret of the shipmind’s past, it seems unfair that the shipmind should know nothing of the detective’s. The relationship between them develops as something of, it seems, mutual mistrust and interdependence. The ship needs money; the detective needs transport and a steady supply of specialised, mind-altering infusions, a commodity which The Shadow’s Child has some skill in concocting. The mystery of the retrieved corpse’s demise emerges slowly, alongside the deeper mystery of Long Chau’s scandalous past, to culminate in a sequence that’s quietly satisfying and strongly resonant, and leaves the reader with the hope that we might encounter these characters again, in circumstances similarly challenging.




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