Ali’s 2018 Pick: The Tea Master and the Detective

Aliette de Bodard, The Tea Master and the Detective (Subterranean Press)

Reviewed by Ali Baker as part of our 2018 Round-Up.

Image result for tea master and the detectiveI have admired Aliette de Bodard’s writing since I was given a copy of Servant of the Underworld close to nine years ago. That novel and its sequels are fantasy mysteries featuring Aztec high priest of the dead Acatl, as he solves crimes that affect the balance between the mortal realm and the supernatural realm. De Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen series is urban Gothic fantasy set in Paris after a magical war. Both of these series feature both full-length novels and shorter works. Her Xuya fiction, however, is all shorter works, including The Tea Master and the Detective, a stand-alone novella set in a far future world (Xuya) where China and Vietnam are global powers.

This novella is an ideal starting point for new readers, as it does not need a great deal of knowledge about the Xuya universe. It is another mystery story, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, where Holmes is the scholar and scientist Long Chau, and Watson is the sentient mindship The Shadow’s Child. Like Watson, The Shadow’s Child is a military veteran, surviving the aftermath of a harrowing conflict. She barely makes a living blending brews to help people cope with the pain of existing in deep space. Into her shop comes Long Chau with a proposition: she needs to collect a corpse floating in space, for research purposes. Reluctantly The Shadow’s Child agrees to help Long Chau — after all, the rent is due — and the two travel to deep space, both facing their traumatic pasts.

De Bodard’s worldbuilding is beautifully rendered, from the ingredients of the brews that The Shadow’s Child creates to the technology of the Xuya universe. This novella is a wonderful jumping off point for readers new to De Bodard’s science fiction, who have some treasures ahead.

Ali Baker is a lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at the University of East London and a researcher in children’s fantasy literature. She is the Programme Chair of Eastercon 2019, Ytterbiumcon.

Ali’s 2018 Pick: The Dragon Prince

As part of our 2018 Round-Up, Ali Baker shines a light on The Dragon Prince.

Dragon Princes 0The Dragon Prince (Netflix Original, 2018), Dir: Villads Spangsberg, Giancarlo Volpe

The Dragon Prince – written by Avatar: The Last Airbender head writer and executive producer Aaron Erhatz and co-director of computer game Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception Justin Richards – is a high-fantasy animated Netflix series about step-brother princes Callum and Ezran, who team up with a would-be assassin, the moon elf Rayla, after the three of them discover that the last dragon egg, believed to have been destroyed, has in fact been hidden away as a dangerous weapon by their father’s adviser, the power-hungry mage Viren.

Callum, Ezran, and Rayla escape from the castle just before the other moon-elves attack and King Harrow is killed. Viren attempts to declare the princes dead and seize the throne, but is stopped after their aunt, General Amaya, reports seeing the princes alive. Viren’s children, Claudia the Mage and Crown Guard Soren, are sent to follow them, but each is given a secret mission on top of returning with the princes and the egg. Rayla, Callum and Ezran encounter other characters along the way, some helpful and some hindering, and they develop skills, talents and inner strength as they overcome dangers and difficulties.

The story is an exciting adventure with a fantasy setting written for pre-teen children. In the land of Xadia, where the elves and dragons reside, magic comes from natural sources. However, humans have been driven from Xadia to the Human Kingdoms after a Mage discovered Dark Magic, which exploits the powers of magical creatures, leading humans to enslave them. The war between the two countries has been going on since that time, although the egg could end it, as it would provide a guarantee of ongoing magical powers. It is clear that Viren has his own reasons for not wanting magic to continue.

This is not a perfect show by a long way. At nine episodes it rushes through the story, and Callum and Ezran’s characters are not given much chance to develop and remain rather stereotypical. Callum is the artistic older brother, who is not much good at princely arts of swordplay and horse-riding, but discovers he is a mage. Ezran is the fun-loving, rather greedy younger brother, who has a humorous pet, the glow-toad Bait. However, the conflicted elf assassin Rayla is a truly intriguing character, and I hope that we learn more about her in the next series.

I did particularly enjoy the very visible inclusion in the series. In an era where only 1% of children’s books published in Britain in 2017 had a protagonist of colour, according to research carried out for the Centre for Primary Literacy, it is wonderful to see a Black King, a mixed-race child protagonist, a stepchild who is not neglected and abused; the children’s aunt, their late mother’s sister Amalya, is a general in the King’s army who uses American Sign Language and has a translator. Giancarlo Volpe has said that the girl Ellis who joins the dragon’s egg protectors with her wolf Ava is based on Tibetan heritage. None of these inclusive depictions are plot points: they are just there for children to notice, or not. My stepson and I look forward to the second series.

Dragon Princes 2

Ali Baker is a lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at the University of East London and a researcher in children’s fantasy literature. She is the Programme Chair of Eastercon 2019, Ytterbiumcon.