The Red Scholar’s Wake
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Publisher: JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc,
Release Date: November 24, 2022
Series: Xuya Universe Romances, Standalone
Genre: science fiction, romance, LGBTQ
‘The Red Scholar is dead.’
The words, at first barely a whisper, passed through the fleet, gaining strength as they went – from the largest mindships to the smaller three-plates craft, from the open-the-voids to the planet-hoppers.
‘The Red Scholar is dead.’
There were defiant firecrackers; noisy, screaming processions of mourners; drunken meals which degenerated into fights; all the while, Xích Si, leaning against a wall in the darkness of the hold where the pirates had imprisoned her, prayed to her long-dead ancestors to be forgotten.
She was one of their only captives: taken from a small and insignificant scavenger the pirates had attacked almost as an afterthought, charring her battered-down ship and breaking her bots with frightening ease, then marching her into this small and suffocating space. Of course they would not expect ransom from such a poor-looking ship. They would press her into service as a bondsperson on their own ships, using her until she broke, if she was lucky. If she was not . . .
There were other, darker uses for bondspeople, especially once wine had flowed freely, and if the pirates were in the mood for pain or pleasure, or both.
Please please please.
At least she was alive – unlike Diệu Ngà and her former crew-mates from The Leaping Carp, the ship that had been boarded and pillaged so long ago. At least she had a chance of being used, rather than being tortured or killed. She remembered fleeing in the escape pod with the sound of battle still raging around her, back to the safety of Triệu Hoà Port; remembered the vids of Diệu Ngà’s body when the militia had found the wreck of The Leaping Carp, the eyes shrivelled in their orbits, the broken texture of the lips, the teeth rattling loose and refracting starlight like jewels – and the wrists and ankles chafed where she’d struggled against the magnetic holds. They’d pinned Ngà to the ship without an unreality suit, and jettisoned it into deep spaces, and Xích Si hadn’t been there for any of it, hadn’t been able to defend her the way Ngà had defended Xích Si’s presence on the venture to the ship-owners and merchant families.
At least Xích Si was still alive – but Ngà had been alive, too, before they started on her.
The door opened, the stench of cheap wine and the din of firecrackers blowing in.
No, not so soon. Please.
Xích Si tried to fold herself as small as possible against the bulwark, hands scrabbling for purchase against smooth, oily metal.
‘So you’re the one.’ The voice was low, and cultured. For a moment its owner was only a dark silhouette in the doorway, and then the lights came on in the hold, and some kind of ambient filter descended, silencing the noises from outside.
The newcomer was a mindship – and not with a ship’s usual avatar, but a human shape: a female official with long flowing robes and a topknot – except that where the hair flowed down and met the cloth, there were stars and nebulas, winking in and out of existence – and her eyes had no whites or irises: they were the colour of the void, dark with no glimmer of light.
‘You’re the ship,’ Xích Si said.
The ship on which she was imprisoned, her prison cell only one room in a vast body, the avatar only a fraction of the ship’s full attention – everything else focused on passengers, on moving between the stars, on bots repairing tears on the hull or maintaining recyclers, filtration systems and airlocks.
The ship. The pirate ship.
‘My name is The Rice Fish, Resting.’ Rice Fish used ‘child’ to refer to Xích Si, ‘elder aunt’ to herself. A gulf, but not such a wide one, between them.
Xích Si knew the name. This was not just any ship. Rice Fish was the Red Scholar’s wife. Her widow, now. The Red Consort, they’d called her in Triệu Hoà Port. The Red Scholar and the Red Consort. Legendary pirates. A ship and a human, the founders of the Red Banner pirate alliance that plagued the Twin Streams, the two asteroid groups stretching in the shadow of the Fire Palace, the red-hot mass that was a long-dead civilisation’s destroyed homeland.
What could someone like Rice Fish want with someone like Xích Si?
Behind Rice Fish was a woman of indeterminate age, her hair shorn close to the scalp – she’d have looked like a reprobate monk if not for the harshness of her expression, the gun and knives in her belt, and the lavish haphazardness of her clothing: a magistrate’s winged hat; an elaborate cloth in five layers, two physical ones, and three in overlays, showing clouds and rain, and half-bitten peaches, and other faintly suggestive images. She stood as if at rest, one hand nonchalantly resting on a knife’s hilt, her role as a bodyguard clear.
The ship’s hands moved, smoothly and far too fast, throwing something towards Xích Si – not just hands. Bots. She must have had her own bots behind the overlay: for even an avatar with the full overlays of perception adjustments couldn’t physically move anything. Something metallic clattered on the floor.
‘Pick them up.’
Restraints? But then Xích Si looked up and saw that they were her dead bots.
What kind of ordeal was this meant to be?
‘I don’t understand, Lady.’ She used a pronoun reserved for high officials, abasing herself as abjectly as she could.
Rice Fish’s face shifted, briefly. Anger? Annoyance? Any moment now, she was going to stride into the cell, or order Xích Si dragged out of it.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t intend any impertinence!’
Xích Si crawled across the floor, picking up her bots. The weight should have been familiar in her hands, but they just felt . . . light. Hollow. They’d been charred, and then gutted; in proof, their broken innards spilled in sharp fragments on Xích Si’s palms. She turned them, seeking something, anything that had survived – the myriad legs she’d so painstakingly assembled were snapped off, the sensors crowning the bodies removed, the round, small bodies themselves scored over and over.
Broken and charred, like everything taken by pirates. Like everyone taken. She closed her eyes, trying to hold back the tears.
‘You killed them,’ she said. Her mouth tasted of salt.
‘So they are yours. You built them.’
Xích Si opened her eyes. She was kneeling in the middle of the floor, and there was no cover or shelter for her any more.
‘Good.’ Rice Fish moved – one moment she was in the doorway, and the next she was kneeling in front of Xích Si. ‘Look at me,’ she said.
About the Book:
From the author of the Xuya universe comes a rich space opera and an intensely soft romance…
When tech scavenger Xích Si is captured and imprisoned by the infamous pirates of the Red Banner, she expects to be tortured or killed. Instead, their leader, Rice Fish, makes Xích Si an utterly incredible proposition: an offer of marriage.
Both have their reasons for this arrangement: Xích Si needs protection; Rice Fish, a sentient spaceship, needs a technical expert to investigate the death of her first wife, the Red Scholar. That’s all there is to it.
But as the interstellar war against piracy rages on and their own investigation reaches a dire conclusion, the two of them discover that their arrangement has evolved into something much less business-focused and more personal…and tender. And maybe the best thing that’s ever happened to either of them—but only if they can find a way to survive together.
Advance Praise for The Red Scholar’s Wake: “So romantic I may simply perish.” —Tasha Suri, author of The Jasmine Throne
“LESBIAN SPACE PIRATES. Enough said.” —Katee Robert, NYT bestselling author of Neon Gods
“The Red Scholar’s Wake is a fizzingly inventive space opera, quite unlike anything I’ve encountered before, and told with style, grace, and a big dose of heart. SF is lucky to have Aliette de Bodard.” —Alastair Reynolds, Sunday Times bestselling author
“The Red Scholar’s Wake takes you on an exhilarating dive into space piracy with passion, politics, dazzling settings, and-even better-a profound core of love transcending hopelessness that rings throughout the story.” —Everina Maxwell, author of WINTER’S ORBIT
https://books2read.com/u/3GWVxL (North America)
https://geni.us/RedScholarHB (Rest of the World)
About the Author:
lives and works in Paris. She has won three Nebula Awards, an Ignyte Award, a Locus Award, a British Fantasy Award and five British Science Fiction Association Awards.
She is the author of Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances (JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc), a fantasy of manners and murders set in an alternate 19th Century Vietnamese court, and of the lesbian space pirates romance The Red Scholar’s Wake (Gollancz, Nov 2022). She also wrote Fireheart Tiger (Tor.com, 2021 BSFA Award winner), a sapphic romantic fantasy inspired by pre colonial Vietnam, where a diplomat princess must decide the fate of her country, and her own.
Her space opera books include The Tea Master and the Detective (2018 Nebula Award winner, 2018 British Fantasy Award winner, 2019 Hugo Award finalist).
Author social media: https://www.twitter.com/aliettedb