The Tea Master and the Detective (5*)

Book: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

the_tea_master_and_the_detective_by_aliett_de_bodardNow I have gone through the Best Novel category for the Hugos I am onto the list for the Novellas.

I actually read this before I knew it had been nominated as I have been in love with the concept of it ever since I heard about it. Since I prefer to read things in physical form that made it harder for me to get hold of, but luckily for me Aliette was at EasterCon and she had a copy for sale which I managed to nab.

What drew me to the story was having it described as Sherlock Holmes if Sherlock was an Asian woman and Watson was a spaceship. I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes and was delighted to discover that the author of this and I have the same favourite castings of both characters (Jeremy Brett as Sherlock and Lucy Liu).

The story follows The Shadow’s Child, a retired military transport with issues related to a trauma caused during that service. She works as a tea maker, someone who makes brews that people need to deal with space travel. During this time she meets Long Chau who needs a brew and also to go into what are called the deep spaces in order to find a corpse.

What results in the two of them becoming embroiled in a mystery that makes the both of them confront things from their past, including something that The Shadow’s Child has been hiding from since she left service.

I haven’t yet read the other novellas set in this same universe, but after reading this one I will definitely be doing so. The setting that is conjured up is rich in texture and voice and I could see, hear and smell what was going on at various places in the story. The tale is excellent told and her versions of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are both recognisably those characters whilst simultaneously being a unique and interesting take on the dynamics.

The mystery itself is well constructed and resolves itself in a way that is both satisfying and thoughtful. I mean the only thing I really have to complain about is that whilst the other novellas are set in the same universe they are not about these characters and I would love to see more of this take on Sherlock, which is the best modern adaptation I have come across in a very long time.

House of Shattered Wings – 3.5*

Book: House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

I picked up an uncorrected proof of this book at one of the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club meetings after having heard good things about her writing, so I was pretty excited to read it and see for myself what her writing is like.

The setting for this book is utterly gorgeous and really unusual. It’s set in a version of our world (in Paris) where Fallen Angels live in social (and physical structures) called Houses. There was a war some years ago that left many things in tatters and one House struggles on the edge of destruction.

According to the back of the book there are three main characters, a newly fallen Angel, a human alchemist and a man from Asia who has strange powers. In reality the book is told from three main perspectives, but one of them isn’t that Fallen Angel, it’s the leader of the House they are all associated with, which was a bit confusing (not also likely not the author’s doing).

Both the Alchemist, a woman called Madeleine, and the man, called Phillipe, are very interesting and flawed people who I really enjoyed getting to know their past and what they were likely to do in response to what is going on. The other supposed main character is called Isabelle and sadly she was the weak link for me, incredibly dull and not fully explored so when towards the end she becomes more important I struggled to particularly care about anything that happened to her, which definitely detracted from the story.

The politics of the interactions with the Houses are excellently done and the antagonists are cruel and nasty without being ridiculous caricatures and that was well done. The story itself interweaves a strange sort of murder mystery and a curse on the House with flashback visions of the past very well.

There were some elements of the book I struggled to get on with. Phillipe seems occasionally rather inconsistent in his morality, which doesn’t quite strike the tone of believable (though of course people are entirely capable of hypocrisy). There are some threads that I am hoping are more explored in the later books as they were left dangling in a very untidy fashion, though without a clear tug to being explained in the future and that was a little frustrating.

None of that has put me off wanting to explore the setting further though so I am hoping that when I pick up and read further the books will improve on what is a decent starting point and fantastic setting.