The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This novella (in a gorgeous Subterranean Press limited edition) is set in the author's Xuya Universe, a far-future space opera that features humans and sentient spaceships that dive into "deep spaces," traveling faster than light rather like sperm whales swimming the ocean depths. But those same deep spaces are mind- and body-twisting unrealities that can be fatal to humans, and severely traumatizing for one of our main characters, the mindship The Shadow's Child, a former troop transport that lost her crew and nearly died during a mission gone bad.
All this backstory is expertly woven into a tale the reader comes to realize is basically a far-future Sherlock Holmes mystery, with The Shadow's Child standing in for Watson and the other main character, the human woman Long Chau, assuming the role of the drug-addicted detective. (Quite openly so regarding the drugs, in fact--she has bots that live in her long-sleeved robes and inject her as needed.) Long Chau seeks out The Shadow's Child to blend the personalized teas that allow humans to function in deep spaces, in preparation for taking a dive in search of a particular corpse.
The mystery is wrapped up neatly enough, but it's the two main characters that are the stars here. The Shadow's Child (grrr, that's annoying typing that out every time; I wish the author had given the shipmind a nickname of "Shadow" or something, but apparently that's a part of shipmind culture, to use their full long-winded names), works through some of the PTSD from her accident, and the abrasive, detatched, single-minded Long Chau makes a connection with someone she hesitantly calls a friend at the story's end. This book feels a bit slight, but I think that's primarily because it serves as a setup for the characters' further adventures. These two are more than interesting enough to return to, and I hope the author does so.
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