Universe of Xuya. Author: Aliette de Bodard.
Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.
A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow’s Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow’s Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow’s Child with her.
As they dig deep into the victim’s past, The Shadow’s Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau’s own murky past–and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars…
Some of the best sci-fi world building I’ve seen in a while – and it’s a novella, too! Really, the mere fact of it’s novella-ness is my one complete. I wanted to learn more about the worlds, the mindships, the deep space. I want another story in the same universe, about the crew of a working mindship going about their lives.
Now, sadly… it does say something that I almost have more thoughts on what else I’d like to see in this world then what I did see. The story was pretty good, but there just wasn’t much of it. We’re introduced to The Shadow’s Child, an absolutely fascinating character (I’ve never read about a traumatized ship before, have you? But it wasn’t just that. It was her office, where she’s never physically been but receives all her customers. It was her loneliness. Her stubborness. Her strength.) and Long Chau, an awfully familiar detective. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to Sherlock Holmes already, and it’s unclear to me if the story is supposed to be almost a Sherlock reimagining, or if it’s merely riffing off that? Either way, she definitely echos the great detective. The mystery itself is wrapped up pretty quickly, and given the unusual setting the reader doesn’t have much chance at figuring out clues for themselves, but I still wasn’t particularly surprised.
Sexual Content: None.
Violence: Nothing directly on screen. One of the characters has repeated flashbacks to a past trauma, where she sees dying/dead bodies, and remembers feeling trapped and injured. Characters examine a dead body, and look into the death, suspecting murder.
I received a free e-copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.