Review: The Tea Master and the Detective

Aliette de Bodard’s novella The Tea Master and the Detective, another Hugo read, is set in her Xuya universe but doesn’t seem to require prior knowledge of it. It’s actually a pretty simple standalone story: The Shadow Child, a “shipmind” suffering with what seems like PTSD after an accident in the mind-bending “deep spaces” which are, roughly, de Bodard’s version of hyperspace, is hired by a mysterious and precociously intelligent woman called Long Chau to help investigate an unusual and extravagant murder.

It’s essentially a Sherlock Holmes story, only in space and with Asian female characters. What I do like about it is how de Bodard treats the standard detective story formula in which the status quo is restored by solving the murder: folded into that consolatory structure, here, is a narrative of change. The solving of the murder is directly linked to a personal crisis for The Shadow’s Child: she faces her fears, and in doing so takes the first step towards healing. It’s not that her problems are solved, or resolved; it’s that her situation has changed for the better, and that she can look forward to further change through her relationship with Long Chau.

Basically, this is just a lovely novella where people make friends and do good and drink tea. I haven’t read much of de Bodard’s work – I didn’t get on great with The House of Shattered Wings – but, after this, I’d love to read more.

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