Here we go with another novella. You might ask me why I keep reading them when they’re not my favorite format, but the truth is that they’re so popular right now and so many authors are exploring such interesting ideas with them that I can’t help myself.
Much like last week’s Prime Meridian, this week’s book fit pretty well into the novella format. The Tea Master and the Detective, unbeknownst to me prior to doing some research for this review, is set in a world that author Aliette de Bodard has worked in before. As such, it feels pretty well-established and despite scant time spent on the world development in the novella, the author has enough confidence in the setting that the reader just goes along with it.
This is a short mystery story set in space. Multiple reviewers have called it Holmesian and I suppose the label fits. Our detective, Long Chau, has a prickly demeanor and a drug addiction. She also appears to be both determined and brilliant in equal measure.
Our reluctant assistant is the AI of a ship who is suffering from PTSD after the traumatic death of her crew and her resultant stranding in deep space.
Well, AI isn’t quite the right description. The Shadow’s Child refers to having been born, raised, and having a family, so it appears that she had an organic body before being transferred into a ship. I most definitely want to read the other Xuya books to learn more about the ship intelligences in this universe.
Anyway, The Shadow’s Child is the titular “tea master.” Having been discharged from military service, she now brew “serenity.” This tea-like narcotic is customized for each user, and helps them cope with the stresses that deep space puts on the human mind. The brief descriptions of it suggest a process that is somewhere between science and alchemical magic.
With the focus on tea and ship-born intelligence, this book put me in mind of the Imperial Radch trilogy. Readers of that series will find some similarities here, but enough differences that it feels like its own unique story that touches on some of the same ideas.
Unfortunately, because this is a novella-length story, the mystery is not very involved. I think I would have preferred to see a novel-length mystery that Long Chau and The Shadow’s Child really had to sink their teeth into, with false leads and dead ends.
Still, I enjoyed this overall and am glad that NetGalley gave me the chance to read and review it.
Pros: Diverse protagonists, cool setting, TEA!
Cons: Could have been longer. But perhaps a bigger con is that currently, I can only find this book available to be pre-ordered as a $40 hardback physical book, with no digital edition available. Granted, that’s a signed limited edition of 1000 copies… But $40 for a novella means this is probably only going to end up in the hands of die-hard fans of de Bodard’s previous Xuya books.
Conclusion: Readers may be better served by checking out some of the author’s other work first and waiting to see if a more affordable version becomes available down the road.
The Tea Master and the Detective is available on Amazon and directly from Subterranean Press. It has a release date of March 31st, 2018. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an advance copy for reviewing purposes.
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