I received an eARC from the publishers through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.
Genre: Sci-fi Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 4 stars Standalone
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…
Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
RED SCHOLAR’S WAKE is a fun sci-fi romantic adventure about pirates and partnerships and parenthood and ethics.
This is a really fun space opera, feeling like a story that’s taking place in one part of a much bigger world. There are fun elements at the core of the story and elements that are in the background (ashlings etc) that feel like they’re references to other events in world. (I think the author might have published other book set in the universe? But I can’t see anything official about that.) There are space pirates, a collation of five groups fractured by their ambitions and morals. We have sentient spaceships with avatars that can feel so real and walk on spaceships.
The spaceship-human dynamics were one I wasn’t sure how it would go initially, but the book both presented the spaceship in such a way that they felt like a person (and not just an inanimate object controlled by a computer) and also addressed the power imbalance. Rice Fish makes sure Xich Si has privacy and power to balance out the fact she is onboard something Rice Fish controls, and Xich Si makes sure that Rice Fish has her own privacy. Also having a physical manifestation of the ship for Xich Si to interact with really helped make that feel real (and give tasting abilities and so on in the virtual plane to ensure you could read experiences into her before giving you the emotional backstory!)
I loved that, as well as there being the strong, central romantic relationship between Xich Si and Rice Fish, the book also focused heavily on parent-child relationships. Rice Fish is estranged from her adult son. Xich Si is physically separated from her 6-year-old daughter. They both love their children but the relationships are complicated. Rich Fish has to navigate political differences and emotional wounds, which Xich Si cannot see her child now she’s a pirate. It was so nice to see that range in child-parent relationships.
In all, it was an enjoyable tale of betrayal, alliances, sticking to your moral guns, and romance. It’s a neatly contained standalone that’s the right length to have all the detail you want but feel like a short read to enjoy in one sitting.
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