The Red Scholar's Wake by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
SPACE PIRATES. That's all.
Xich Si's scavenger ship is taken by pirates in the wake of the Red Scholar's death, and you know how it goes: she can never go home again. But will she be pressed into service as a bondsperson? Or will she be tortured to death as her business partner had been? What she doesn't expect is to be offered a marriage contract by Rice Fish, the ship itself and also the Red Scholar's widow. It's a marriage of convenience, of business and protection, and you know how that usually goes as well.
And to put this right at the start, it's advertised as a sapphic romance, so if that's not what you can accept, then this story is not for you. No blindsiding in this one, it's obvious from the start that the two of them are going to, well... Anyway, there is at least one graphic scene, obviously right before the betrayal (or misunderstanding) though it's a strange stretch (for me) to think of a person and a mindship? An avatar? Relationships-wise at any rate, I do not think there is a single heterosexual relationship in this novel. If there was, it was just never really talked about at all.
The entire novel is layered in Vietnamese imagery, like a peek into a new world for me. One that seems faintly familiar in its Asianness and yet vastly different as well. There's that hierarchy of both age and status: the distance of the elder aunts and young child, the closeness of sisters. The descriptions - especially of their clothes and their overlays - are rich and detailed I sometimes wonder what's the significance of the phoenixes and the peaches and all the other stuff that appears on Tien's clothes that I've already forgotten.
The Red Scholar's Wake is a story full of open tropes and yet one full of hidden depths...skilfully engineered together to fulfil your every expectation--and beyond. It's Xich Si doing anything she can to keep her daughter alive and safe, and Rice Fish learning to love again from the ruins of her past. It's lawful space pirates against a corrupted legal society, the small people against the Big Powers, power plays and politics, a building and breaking of trust, family lost and family found. And all-too-perceptive children.
Come for the tropes, stay because it's a truly entertaining read.
Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the Orion Publishing Group via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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