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…
de Bodard delights again in a perhaps the oddest retelling of Sherlock Holmes I’ve yet to encounter. The Tea Master and the Detective was both a fun and trippy reading experience.
As with most Sherlock Holmes stories, we follow Watson, or in this case, The Shadow’s Child, a down on her luck shipmind (ship AI?) who makes a living brewing psychotic teas for human space travelers into deepspace. Whether deepspace refers to being physically deep into space and away from planets, or traveling through physical dimensions was unclear, but the descriptions were very trippy and cool. The Shadow’s Child makes for an interesting character to follow. Deeply traumatic from war, she comes off as extremely neurotic, but yet with enough empathy to tag along with Long Chau and her various shenanigans. I definitely liked Long Chau’s character more, with\ her very prickly Sherlockian outer shell and yet a softer caring personality on the inside. Together, the two of them have fantastic chemistry and I would love to read more of their adventures.
The worldbuilding is where this novella excels the most. de Bodard puts together a beautiful pan-Asian inspired world with heavy Vietnamese influences in the universe of Xuya and it’s certainly one I’d love to see more fleshed out. Given the title, there’s a heavy focus on tea and the various ingredients used for different, mind-altering effects. But there’s also the details in how shipminds interact with each other, how they project food on a table when visiting each other to simulate human interaction and relive memories of human friends. And the bots. Shipminds control bots to act as their hands in manipulating their physical world, but even humans carry their own set of robots to augment their abilities. I was truly immersed in this world.
I thought the weakest part of this book was the plot, and that’s largely because I don’t generally find murder mysteries all that interesting. They meet, find a body, Long Chau deduces who the murderer is, and after facing some struggle, apprehend the criminal. Very simple. However, at every step of that path, the interactions between Long Chau and The Shadow’s Child and their character development were a delight to read and the two of them really kept me engaged.
Overall, I rate this book a 4/5. Both the characters and the Vietnamese-inspired worldbuilding were a delight to read, and while I found the plot fairly straightforward, it acted as a fantastic vehicle for Long Chau and The Shadow’s Child‘s character development.
/r/Fantasy 2019-2020 Bingo Squares:
- SFF Novella (hard mode)
- Novel w/an AI Character (hard mode)
- Title with 4+ words
- Retelling (hard mode)
Publisher: Subterranean Press