The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Apr 9, 2016

I have long wanted to like Aliette de Bodard's books, largely because every time I read about one of them it sounds like one of the greatest ideas ever. Aztec Noir? Genius. Angels and alchemists duking it out over a post-war Paris? Intriguing.

Sherlock Holmes reimagined as the adventures of a scholar and spaceship mind in a future Sino-Vietnamese Empire? Why aren't all novel elevator pitches like this?

Sadly, The Tea Master and the Detective is only a novella. As such, I didn't get nearly the dosage I needed, and can only hope she revisits the idea frequently. That's one criticism. Another would be that in the closing stages, the mystery feels a little rushed and easy. De Bodard's plotting has been the weak point that's stopped me liking her books before and it's not a strong point here either. No matter. The strength and pacing of the character reveals makes up for that.

And the core of Sherlock Holmes - at least for me after watching too much of the BBC's Sherlock - is wonderfully executed. The ex-military transport expy of Dr Watson has the right mix of brittle anger, tiredness and idealism; they view the former scholar Sherlock expy with the right mix of fascination and disdain. She's written with a wonderful voice. The deductive power of the scholar isn't quite on display as one might wish, but still gets a good run out. I still get the feeling of watching something close to a genius at work.

The setting deserves a mention too. I understand its one De Bodard has used elsewhere (and am strongly considering tracking down). It is overbrimming with tiny details and a sense of being lived in. Not only does that make it so easy to imagine, but also interwoven in with the story to the point where I can't imagine this particular version anywhere else. There's a lot of spec fic stories that could be told somewhere else, but not this one.

All in all, this is a novella of superior quality and a wonderful way to spend an hour. Aliette De Bodard truly does have the best ideas.
google says that "An expy (short "exported character") is a character from one series who is unambiguously and deliberately based on a character in another, older series. "

I read the novella recently too - I'm not sure I found as much in it as TBP did, but I did enjoy it.

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