ARC Review: The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

ARC Review: The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de BodardThe Red Scholar's Wake by Aliette de Bodard

Published by Gollancz on November 24th 2022
Also by this author: In the Vanishers’ Palace, The Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya), Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders, The Citadel of Weeping Pearls, Fireheart Tiger, Seven of Infinities, Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 336

Xích Si: bot maker, data analyst, mother, scavenger. But those days are over now-her ship has just been captured by the Red Banner pirate fleet, famous for their double-dealing and cruelty. Xích Si expects to be tortured to death-only for the pirates' enigmatic leader, Rice Fish, to arrive with a different and shocking proposition: an arranged marriage between Xích Si and herself.

Rice Fish: sentient ship, leader of the infamous Red Banner pirate fleet, wife of the Red Scholar. Or at least, she was the latter before her wife died under suspicious circumstances. Now isolated and alone, Rice Fish wants Xích Si's help to find out who struck against them and why. Marrying Xích Si means Rice Fish can offer Xích Si protection, in exchange for Xích Si's technical fluency: a business arrangement with nothing more to it.

But as the investigation goes on, Rice Fish and Xích Si find themselves falling for each other. As the interstellar war against piracy intensifies and the five fleets start fighting each other, they will have to make a stand-and to decide what kind of future they have together...

An exciting space opera and a beautiful romance, from an exceptional SF author.

Thank you to the author, the publisher, and Netgalley, for providing a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Red Scholar’s Wake is the first full novel in the Xuya universe created by Aliette de Bodard. I’ve read nearly every story set in it and I loved all of them, so I was excited about a longer story. The story is pitched as lesbian space pirates, and that’s exactly what you’re getting. Expect lots of tropes, but also references to Vietnamese culture and history. I love the universe Aliette created by weaving the Vietnamese culture into a space society with mind ships.

The relationship between Xich Si and Rice Fish is well-written, slowly changing from a marriage of convenience to something more. Insert grumpy relatives and a child from a previous relationship and the family drama is complete. Still, the focus is mostly and the relationship between them, against the backdrop of a changing political environment, betrayal, and doing the right thing.

There are some recurring elements, like a mother’s love and protection of her child, and rebellion against the status quo. And while previous books have a major mystery element, the quest for answers takes on a slightly different approach here. It’s more straightforward than The Tea Master and the Detective, for example. I don’t mind because it was clear from the beginning that this would be a different type of book.

I give The Red Scholar’s Wake 4,5 stars. It’s a thrilling story about love, family, and loyalty, but also rebellion, going against expectations, and change. As always, it’s well-written in Aliette’s incredible voice. All of the Xuya books can be read as standalones and The Red Scholar’s Wake is an excellent starting point. I highly recommend this to people who love South Asian-inspired stories, space opera, or queer romance.

About Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Obsidian and Blood trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, as well as numerous short stories which have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and two British Science Fiction Association Awards. Her space opera books include The Tea Master and the Detective, a murder mystery set on a space station in a Vietnamese Galactic empire, inspired by the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Recent works include the Dominion of the Fallen series, set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which comprises The House of Shattered Wings (Roc/Gollancz, 2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, Locus Award finalist), and its standalone sequel The House of Binding Thorns (Ace/Gollancz, 2017 European Science Fiction Society Achievement Award, Locus award finalist). (Photo taken by Lou Abercrombie)

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