Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. 

“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-planes craft, from the open-the-voids to the planet-hoppers.

I recently read The Tea Master and the Detective and loved the concept of the mindships as characters, so I was delighted to see The Red Scholar’s Wake was set in that universe (and with the mention of dragons with antlers, is this the future of the Dominion of the Fallen books?).

Following a pirate raid, those taken hostage are either sold into bondage or face torture and death, maybe both. When Xích Si’s scavenger ship is captured, she doesn’t expect an offer of marriage. As a bot maker and data analyst, she is useful to Rice Fish, the leader and mindship of the infamous Red Banner. Following the death of her wife, Rice Fish’s grasp on the banners has been tenuous and the only way she can offer protection to Xích Si, is to marry her.

She was frazzled and exhausted, and feeling cooped up in a small, vaguely friendly spcae in the midst of an ocean of uncertain goodwill, if not outright hostility.

Of course, what starts as a marriage of convenience grows into more, once they both realise the other is more than they seem on the surface. Xích Si expects cruelty from the pirates, and they can be, they take slaves after all, but she also realises the world she came from can be just as bad. The pirate have some rules, and when the daughter she has been forced to leave behind is threatened, help comes from unexpected sources.

The mindship is grieving, and learned to push love away in her previous marriage. Her son is resentful and around her pirates vie for position. Is she strong enough to lead the banner? If you’re wondering how a spaceship and a human have a romantic relationship, you’ll just have to read it!

This has been very heavily pushed as “lesbian space pirates” and while is does indeed contain lesbian space pirates, it’s lighter on the action than you might expect. Less piracy, more introspection and a lot of politics. I think it helps to have read one of the novellas set in the Xuya universe, just to get up to speed with the worldbuilding faster, but this is a standalone novel that can be read by itself.

We’re a safe space. That’s not empty words.

Content warnings and AO3 tags can be found on Aliette’s website. Most the violence and icky stuff is off page or hinted at. The gorgeous UK cover art is by Alyssa Winans.

The Red Scholar’s Wake is published by Gollancz and will be available in hardback, ebook and audiobook editions from 24th November 2022. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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