Thank you to Gollancz and Netgalley for the review copy in exchange for an honest review. This does not change my opinion in anyway.
Book: The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Board
Release Date: November 24th 2022
Tags: Sci-Fi | Adult | Partnership | Space Pirates | LGTQ+ | F/F Relationship
Trigger/Content Warnings: Grief | Trauma
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.
The Red Scholar’s Wake was plentiful buzzed in my corner of the internet and as such I was buzzed to. I have been on a decent Aliette de Bodard reading spree this year too so that helped. I was not initially taken by the story but later on the characters grabbed me.
The book is often thrown around as lesbian space pirates, and while that is mostly accurate, it isn’t so whymsical as that line makes it sound. These space pirates are in one collective and each have their own fiction. Some want to loot while others want to build a fair society. I thought that was a really interesting take. Even being associated with pirates or when kidnapped, you cannot return to your previous place in society. They make you an outcast. This world building was very interesting but could have and probably should have been expanded on a lot more.
Xích Si has been taken from her ship by the space pirates and cannot return to her family, her daughter, even if she can get out. It feels hopeless. Yet when the sentient ship Rice Fish comes to her and offers her a partnership by marriage, suddenly there is some sort of an out. She just has to become a space pirate.
Initially this setting with Xích Si and Rice Fish was awkward, they didn’t quite feel real yet so the speak. And the plot point of finding proof of who murdered Rice Fish previous wife didn’t quite grab me because of the previous point made on world building. But then the characters started to grow. We got more on Rice Fish and her relationship trauma and her strained relationship with her son next to grieving her wife. While Xích Si is trying to find what her place is in this new world and if she can accept the rules.
All in all I found this an interesting and in the end an entertaining read. I do think there is still a lot to be discovered here and things to expand on so I hope Aliette de Bodard will return to this space pirate world.