Book Review: The Tea Master & The Detective

Author: Aliette de Bodard

Published: 31 March, 2018

Publisher: Subterranean Press

Did you say Sherlock Holmes in space, but with a Vietnamese-influenced setting and with a lady in the lead? Oh, and with Dr. Watson being a sentient spaceship?

Not sure what else would one need to check this book out!

The story is set in the Scattered Pearls Belt, a space society for exiled scholars held together by living mindships. The protagonist is the grumpy, drug-using Long Chau, who wants a corpse for a scientific research. But when she inspects the body, she suspects foul play and decides to investigate, with the mindship The Shadow’s Child in tow.

I’m a fan of Ms. de Bodard’s writing style, which I’m very familiar with from her many short stories. Rich prose, intricate descriptions, and deep understanding of the human nature are her trademarks. The story here has a lot of parallels with Holmes (that fans of the British detective will immediately relate to), while at the same time standing nicely as an original sci-fi mystery with a pretty unique setting.

Both Long Chau and The Shadow’s Child are very interesting characters (oh yes, the mindship is a character, and a very well-written one). The complex relationship is excellently portrayed, and as the story progresses we get to know a lot about the traumatic past of the mindship and how it influences its current events. Long Chau is a great, three-dimensional character with a lot of layers to explore. One would notice from the start how intriguing the dialogue between both characters is, and by the end of the book I felt invested in their lives that I actually would love to see more of this duo’s adventures.

The book is on the shorter side, which makes for a great afternoon read. The story demonstrates excellent skill at maintaining both a swift pace and great worldbuilding, which is something not many can achieve. No parts dragged nor felt abrupt.

Verdict? A very novel take on Sherlock Holmes, and a definite five-star read.