A review by ghosthermione
The Red Scholar's Wake, by Aliette de Bodard

adventurous emotional hopeful tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


  Thanks to Netgalley and Orion Publishing for giving me a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 

I got taken in by the idea of lesbian space pirates when the book was first mentioned, and I was so looking forward to it! I tend to… not really read blurbs for authors I trust, so I was surprised and intrigued to find out that one half of the main couple was a mindship. Sentient spaceships are one of my favourite tropes and de Bodard’s take on it always fascinates me (I think I can say without spoilers that they’re human-spaceship hybrids, borne from a human mother) and I loved the idea of exploring what it means for one of them to have deep feelings for someone, and how that is navigated.

The romance hit all the right notes for me from the start, with all the tropes that made me go “aaaaah” and not want to put down the book (well, phone) even though it was 3am. It’s a romance born of necessity and it really added tension to the whole situation. And what does it mean to consent when the other person has so much power over you? I liked that it didn’t shy from those difficult topics. And the trauma of past relationships, and the damage it can do to the children involved.

Speaking of children, all the kids in this book! They were adorable! And aside from providing some needed levity, I love that they’re truly individuals with their own needs and feelings and not just an afterthought.

De Bodard also continues on her trend to not really have male characters. I mean, there’s one or two, but most important players, and almost all background characters, are women. And in a genre that’s still dominated by men, it’s always refreshing.

Aside from the romance, we get a mystery/political intrigue plot that was interesting enough to keep me guessing and yet did not overshadow the romance. Another thing with the Xuya universe is that there is some kind of magic to the technology – I don’t understand it, but there’s no technobabble trying to make me understand it. It’s these characters’ reality and it just IS, and I appreciate that. On the one hand, I keep wanting more explanations and context, and on the other I’m happy to leave it as is and just go with it; it’s part of what makes the universe so vivid to me, that not everything is explained away.

I was really happy to get a novel-size story in that universe, and a full-on romance novel at that, and I would heartily recommend it whether you’re familiar with this universe or completely new to it.