The Tea Master and the Detective is a sci-fi Sherlock Holmes retelling in which Holmes is a woman and Watson is a sentient spaceship.
With a premise and a cover like these, I had to read this – and not only it lived up to my expectations, it surpassed them.
The Tea Master and the Detective is a standalone novella set in Bodard’s Xuya universe; you do not need to have read the other short stories and novellas to read this one, but reading this made me want to. It was as beautiful as it was short and a great introduction to this universe; now I will certainly look more into it.
The main characters of this book are the spaceship The Shadow’s Child, who is also the narrator, and Long Chau, a woman with a mysterious past and surprising deductive abilities. I loved both of them and their dynamic. Non-romantic relationships between humans and non-human (or: not exactly human anymore, in this case) sentient beings are one of my favorite things to read about. In this book there’s no romance at all, and it’s great to read about competent women in stories that have nothing to do with romance, women who are allowed to be cold and forthright without being portrayed as evil.
The worldbuilding was really interesting, and this novella made me want to know more about it. This is a universe in which spaceships are sentient and can travel through deep spaces (which are terrifying), and tea is an art – The Shadow’s Child is hired by Long Chau also because she’s a tea master and can brew tea tailored to Long Chau’s needs (to drink someone else’s tea can be dangerous).
There is a mystery element here, and it wasn’t too predictable, but that wasn’t why this book worked for me – the story of The Shadow’s Child finally confronting her fear after the traumatic event of a few years before and her conversations with Long Chau were the best parts.
My rating: ★★★★¾