The Tea Master and the Detective is an entertaining novella about the adventures of a mindship and a detective. I found their relationship to be the most fascinating part of the novella – as I love novellas with sentient technology components.
Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.
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.
I was, and still am, so fascinated by the relationship between The Shadow’s Child and Long Chau. I know there’s a whole mystery aspect to it, and that is intriguing as well, but I have been fascinated with the whole idea of sentient spaceships ever since I heard of The Ship That Could Sing (which may not actually be the title).
So let’s dive right into that aspect of the review – I was really happy with The Shadow’s Child. I am still not sure if I can really wrap my head around the concept – but it’s not de Bodard’s fault – my own limited human brain. But I keep coming back to this idea and so I keep challenging myself.
That being said, I truly adored the characters of Long Chau and The Shadow’s Child. They were enigmatic, but also empathetic. There was a very distinct sense of trauma, secrets, and distrust. (Is this not the same as everyone’s first meeting?) I got almost a Sherlock Holmes meets Science fiction meets something else completely. There was this deduction aspect which I found so Holmes-esque (not that he has a monopoly on deduction, but Chau had a similar brand of arrogance).
They strike an unlikely partnership, but one that I think makes both of them better for it. It forces them to confront their ideas about the world and themselves and I would happily read another book with them any day.
Make sure to find The Tea Master and the Detective on Goodreads.