Women’s Book March: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

I’m challenging myself to read only novels by women and femme people for a full year, from March 2019 through March 2020. Read this post to get the full story!

The Tea Master and the Detective is a tautly focused murder mystery in space starring one of the oddest odd couples I’ve read about in quite some time.

The Shadow’s Child is a shipmind who once flew military troops through the mind-bending unreality of deep spaces. After a traumatic accident left her terrified of accessing deep spaces, she scrapes by blending teas for human passengers to help them tailor their neurochemistry for various tasks.

She is approached by Long Chau, a mysterious woman doing business under a nomme de guerre (Long Chau apparently means Dragon Pearl and is, to The Shadow’s Child‘s sensibilities, obviously a fake name). Long Chau wants a blend that will maintain her sanity in deep spaces–no small task when she’s already riding on several custom drug blends of her own. But when the two of them discover a body in deep spaces who may have been murdered, some hard questions arise–including about Long Chau’s own mysterious past.

I will always be down for a story with a living ship as a protagonist, and de Bodard does an amazing job creating The Shadow’s Child as an individual with a past, a family, hopes, fears and dreams. In a genre that often treats AIs and cyborgs as singular creations, it was especially nice to see references to The Shadow’s Child’s mother and younger siblings, as well as the society of shipminds she participates in. Her developing relationship with the prickly Long Chau is also fascinating to watch, and suggests, to me at least, that this isn’t the last adventure these two will have. I sincerely hope it isn’t.

This novella was my introduction both to Aliette de Bodard as an author and also to her Vietnamese space opera Xuya Universe, a series mostly of short stories and novellas as well as one novel, On a Red Station Drifting. However, you don’t have to have read the other stories to enjoy this satisfying standalone novella.

Already read The Tea Master and the Detective? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

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