The Citadel of Weeping Pearls: A pearl of a mystery in the Xuya universe

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard’s UNIVERSE OF XUYA series of novellas and short stories has been nominated for Best Series in the 2019 Hugo awards, for very good reason. The detailed worldbuilding and thoughtful writing pull the reader into a world with an alternative history, where Chinese ships were the first to discover the Americas, drastically changing our history and leading to a space age future where Chinese and Vietnamese galactic empires hold great power and intelligent mindships interact with humans outside of the ship through projected avatars. De Bodard’s website has an extremely useful page that includes a brief description of the Xuya (“Dawn Shore”) universe and a handy chronology listing all of her XUYA tales.

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls (2017), one of the novellas in this series, takes place in the Dai Viet Empire. Thirty years before this story begins, the Citadel, a space station headed up by the Bright Princess Ngoc Minh, Empress’s oldest and favorite daughter and her heir, was a place of technological wonders: tiny but immensely powerful weapons, teleporting inhabitants, and more. The Empress, furious at her daughter’s ongoing defiance (including not sharing these weapons), had sent her ships to destroy the Citadel, but when they arrived the Citadel and all of its inhabitants had mysteriously vanished.

Now the Empire is threatened by an invading fleet of ships from the Nam Federation, which appears to have discovered a way to hijack the brains of the Empire’s mindships, their biggest advantage in war. The Empress is in more need of the Citadel’s weapons than ever before, and the Empire’s scientists may have found a way to use the mysterious aspects of deep space to revisit the past.

The focus of The Citadel of Weeping Pearls is as much on interpersonal relationships as it is the mystery of the Citadel’s disappearance and the search for a method to find it again. De Bodard examines the sometimes difficult bonds and relationships between mothers and daughters and sisters: the Empress regrets her falling out with her eldest daughter Ngoc Minh; the Empress’s youngest daughter, Ngoc Ha, tries to come to terms with her tense relationship with her own daughter, the mindship The Turtle’s Golden Claw, and her lingering jealousy of her older sister Ncog Minh. The Turtle’s Golden Claw is helping with the search for the Citadel and the newly vanished Grand Master Bach Cuc, the mindship’s paternal grandmother, who was one of those searching for the Citadel’s trail. Meanwhile, engineer Diem Huong, whose mother vanished with the Citadel when Diem Huong was six years old, is part of a team working on an experimental time machine, and she desperately hopes to use it to find her mother again.

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls is a slower-paced and somewhat opaque novella, with a large and sometimes confusing array of characters (all of the Vietnamese names were, I’m afraid, a slight challenge for me to keep straight). But it’s also a beautifully written, bittersweet mystery in a wonderfully imaginative space setting. Readers who are patient and attentive will be amply rewarded by reading this novella.

Published in 2017. The Citadel of Weeping Pearls was a great wonder; a perfect meld between cutting edge technology and esoteric sciences—its inhabitants capable of teleporting themselves anywhere, its weapons small and undetectable and deadly. Thirty years ago, threatened by an invading fleet from the Dai Viet Empire, the Citadel disappeared and was never seen again. But now the Dai Viet Empire itself is under siege, on the verge of a war against an enemy that turns their own mindships against them; and the Empress, who once gave the order to raze the Citadel, is in desperate needs of its weapons. Meanwhile, on a small isolated space station, an engineer obsessed with the past works on a machine that will send her thirty years back, to the height of the Citadel’s power. But the Citadel’s disappearance still extends chains of grief and regrets all the way into the fraught atmosphere of the Imperial Court; and this casual summoning of the past might have world-shattering consequences…

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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