Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Published by: Subterranean Press
ISBN: 1596068647
ISBN 13: 9781596068643
Published: March 2018
Pages: 96
Format reviewed: Amazon mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

Female Sherlock Holmes and John Watson(!), except its set in space(!!) and Watson is a shipmind(!!!).

‘Shipminds such as her were meant to be the centre of families: grown by alchemists in laboratories, borne by human mothers and implanted into the ship-bodies designed for them, they were much longer lived than humans – the repositories of memories and knowledge, the eldest aunts and grandmothers on whom everyone relied.’

From the synopsis:

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. 

So yes. The Shadow’s Child = John Watson. Long Chau = Sherlock Holmes. And the characterisation is so superbly beautiful.

This is set in de Bodard’s ‘Universe of the Xuya’ which is: ‘Xuya is a recurring universe in my alternate histories, the premise being that China discovered the Americas before the West, and that the exploration of this new continent prevented China from sinking inwards (not to mention being invaded by the Manchu, who later founded the ill-fated Qing dynasty, China’s last imperial dynasty).’

So with all that said to accurately give you an idea of what we’re playing with here, let me just say as someone quite invested in the canon (and yet also loves the first few seasons of the BBC’s Sherlock), I utterly adore this. SO much. Have you ever had the feeling that a book could make you cry it’s just so overwhelmingly perfect? This is the book to come closest for a good long while.

It both pays respectful nods to what makes these long-lasting characters so everlasting, and yet also has developed itself into something entirely its own. It’s set in space and yet there are still mysteries. There’s the bureaucracy and overworked staff who won’t be able to look into a random murdered woman properly. There’s the gossip and care between different ships. There’s the idea of the mindship, how they exist, and the memories they carry.

I need a whole series of these two and their seemingly effortless interactions. The dialogue is one of the reasons we all love the duo so much, and de Bodard does so well at replicating this eloquently, yet also with the added layer of the  Chinese customs and respect. And the culture!

This book was everything I didn’t know I needed, and I picked it up at exactly the right time. Now I need to go fling it at people’s faces to spread the joy.