From Murderbirds to Sherlock Holmes

2020 reading seems to fall into 2 categories: binge reading and almost no reading. I’m in the latter, at least as far as reading something new goes (I’ve reread a few novels). But there is hope for those of us who are struggling find time/energy/focus to read fiction: novellas! I have read THREE of these! Two of them were even ebooks, a format I am still not wild about but find okay for a reasonably short work (no way am I reading something like the Lord of the Rings on my tablet). Aliette de Bodard’s short fiction is the perfect length for an ereader.

First up: Of Dragons, Feasts, and Murders aka Murderbirds go home for the holidays (the author’s own nickname for her mismatched couple). This one works best if you’ve already read the Dominion of the Fallen trilogy, but honestly I think if charismatic stabby fallen angels are your thing you can manage (spoiler: I love the stabby angel). A quick little murder mystery with added political intrigue, featuring Thuan, a dragon prince who’d just like a quiet Lunar New Year, and Asmodeus, the fallen angel whose default solution to problems is stabbing people. Thuan has made the common mistake of taking his husband home for the holidays, with the added fun that ‘home’ is the underwater dragon kingdom, his aunt’s position as Empress isn’t 100% stable, and Asmodeus is Asmodeus. It’s a clever little mystery , but for me this is all about watching the two husbands trying to not get themselves or each other killed – or anyone else if possible, in Thuan’s case – and figure out their boundaries and compromises as a couple, and the balancing act between two very different worlds above and below the Seine.

Oh, and then there’s Grandmother, the dowager Empress…let’s just say Asmodeus is a big fan.

The Tea Master and the Detective is by the same author, but set in a different universe (there are other works in the same universe, but these are all standalone). The only thing in common is the Vietnamese elements, but instead of dragons we’re now out in space, with a lovely Sherlock Holmes homage, except this time Holmes is a prickly scholar with a past (Long Chau) and Watson is a traumatised sentient spaceship (The Shadow’s Child). Between the two of them they have to work out what to do with a corpse — but first they need to figure out whether they trust each other enough to work together. It’s a great mystery, but something that really stands out is how, unlike some versions of Holmes and Watson, de Bodard captures the fact that Watson starts out in a fragile place and Holmes may be prickly with drug issues, but cares about people.

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