The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

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My introduction to Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya Universe came via The Citadel of Weeping Pearls last year, a novella that blew me away. Typically, it has taken me this long to then follow up on that introduction to de Bodard’s Vietnamese inspired future – you know how it goes.

I guess the first thing to say is that this is a genius gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes tale in which Holmes is a drug-addict intellectual pain-in-the-bum and Watson a traumatised and discharged warship who makes bespoke teas. So, yep, it had my full attention from the word go.


Long Chau needs a corpse for her studies. For that she needs to enter Deep Spaces, without losing her higher intellectual functions. For that she needs a tea master, a brewer of serenity (those bespoke teas are actually tailored drugs to enable humans to survive the weirdness of Deep Spaces). The Shadow’s Child is a tea master, having been discharged from military service after a traumatic event during the Ten Thousand Flags uprising. It is not an easy living to make, and the shipmind cannot afford to refuse a commission when it comes her way, even from someone as abrasive as Long Chau. And then the corpse Long Chau acquires appears to have been murdered …


I love de Bodard’s vision of a far-future space age informed by Vietnamese history and culture and peopled with shipminds, bots and habitats as well as humanity. As with The Citadel of Weeping Pearls there is so much packed into this novella’s pages. If a book is like a play put on at a theatre: some are played out with minimal scenery and props, the action under the spotlight being the important thing, but de Bodard’s Xuya novellas are dramas in which the many layers: the scenery, the shadows created by the lights, the theatre itself, are all as important as the story being acted out by its players. A long-winded way of saying that these novellas have a depth belied by their page count. The reader can see all the way to the back.

I love, too, her shipminds, and The Shadow’s Child gives us a fascinating view of a very different existence.

“She could have made herself small and unthreatening. She could have hovered over people’s shoulders like a pet or a children’s toy, as was the fashion amongst the older shipminds. But she’d lived through a war, an uprising and a famine, and she was done with diminishing herself to spare the feelings of others.”

She is a traumatised soul, maybe, but that is not all she is. Like most of her kind, she is centuries old; a reader of “epic romances and martial heroes books”; an appreciator of tea and fine food, no matter that she cannot physically drink or eat. She is unapologetically herself, a little cranky perhaps, but curious and compassionate too. Long Chau is interesting in the way that Sherlock Holmes is, as an imaginative exercise, but isn’t someone to empathise with. The Shadow’s Child on the other hand, is someone I could happily spend all my time with.

And that is really all I can say. The mystery set before The Shadow’s Child and Long Chau isn’t one that can be discussed without giving the whole thing away, and so much of my pleasure in reading The Tea Master and the Detective was in watching it unfold and open another window onto de Bodard’s universe. I’d not want to ruin that for anyone else. So, I loved it, I hope you love it too if you read it, and I look forward to my next foray into Xuya space.



    • “Tea” in the book is drugs to enable humans to cope with Deep Space, which makes us go a little loopy otherwise. But these teas have to be tailor-made to each person, hence they are bespoke.

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    • Oh I would love that too!
      Of course, I’m also terribly grateful for anything de Bodard writes because it’s all awesome. But I’d love to read more about The Shadow’s Child and Long Chau. 🥰

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  1. Great review! I loved reading this book when I picked it up a while ago, but your review makes me want to revisit it. (I probably should read some of the Xuya books I haven’t read yet first, though. I’m so far behind with that series/universe.)

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