2022 continues to be the reading year of grief and trauma, which is no surprise giving everything that has been going on in the world for, well, a really long time. I can see how the generational trauma of colonialism has informed this universe.
As I read, it became clear that Aliette de Bodard was playing with the word ‘wake’ in the title, The Red Scholar’s Wake. Wake: to transition from sleep; a gathering before the funeral, the track left by a moving body. Huân, the Red Scholar, the leader of the Red Banner pirates is dead. She leaves behind grief and uncertainty. Huân’s wife, the mindship Rice Fish, and her son, Hô, the leader of the Purple Banner pirates are grieving and angry. There is a wake. Rice Fish struggles for stability in the wake of her wife’s death. And if the pirates are going to survive, they need to wake up to the threat in their midst.
The book opens with Xích Si held captive by Red Banner pirates, remembering the brutally cruel way pirates murdered her former partner. Rice Fish rescues Xích Si from captivity, but she never forgets that she was a captive because of the pirates. Rice Fish also remembers when she was held captive by pirates, and rescued by Huân.
The Red Scholar’s Wake is gorgeous. I haven’t read any of de Bodard’s Xuya Universe books, and I may have missed some details as a result, but I never felt like I was missing important information. I have read other books by the author, and love the way she builds worlds that are so lived in. The details are rich and I could see the nebulas swirling through Rice Fish‘s avatar’s hair. I loved that Xích Si counters her grief and trauma by reaching for connection and intimacy. It leads to the hope that there is a way to live that does depend on the suffering of others.
CW: description of torture and murder, description of death in battle, capture, enslavement, children put up for sale, corruption, bribery, battle, injury, betrayal.
I received this as an advance reader copy from NetGalley. My opinions are my own, freely and honestly given.