In the far-future world of the Scattered Pearls Belt, a war veteran recovers from a traumatic experience that left her reeling and injured. Discharged from military service, she is making a life for herself by preparing blends to help others in their own ailments and barely making ends meet in a backwater of the asteroid belt.
Then a detective-scholar walks into her rooms and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: help the (unpleasant) detective find a corpse (ostensibly for research) in deep space (oh, NO). And then the corpse they find turns out to be a murder victim. And the tea master and the detective will have to join forces to solve this mystery.
If any of this sounds familiar that’s because IT SHOULD. The Tea Master and the Detective is a new novella by Aliette de Bodard in her own Xuya universe of stories but is also a reworking of Sherlock Holmes in which the detective is a woman named Long Chau and the doctor/tea master is… a SHIP. Rather, a mindship named The Shadow's Child.
In this world created by Aliette de Bodard, mindships are living beings who carry people and cargo around the stars and whose avatars mingle and interact with people, friends and family.
The Shadows’ Child is no different and through lived experiences and her long-lasting memory she is as part of the world as is Long Chau or any other human, for that matter. I love how Aliette de Bodard is constantly not only revisiting but reinventing her own Xuya universe and one of her many, many qualities as a writer is this beautiful mix of modern futures with on-going traditions. So on the one hand, you have a living spaceship and on the other hand, that scientific wonder is tied to a specific culture with its own traditions. This story is infused with a sense of belonging and of history but without losing track of how change is important and how no one should be left behind.
The Tea Master and the Detective also follows in the footsteps of another tradition: that of a Holmes and Watson retelling through Watson’s eyes. In here The Shadow's Child is the viewpoint narrator and through her eyes, we feel her own fear and trauma just as we see her curiosity and attraction to the enigmatic figure of Long Chau: someone who starts off as off-putting and distant and slowly reveals herself to be much more than that.
The Tea Master and the Detective is the Sherlock Holmes retelling I always wanted and now I have it. And I want so much more of it.
In Booksmugglerish: 8 out of 10