A guest review by LadyM
Review summary: Charming, humorous short story that made me appreciate tea more 😉
Blurb: Thief Eric Devon wishes one thing: for people to leave him bloody well alone. And maybe for more whiskey. Until a mysterious stranger offers him a job so dangerous that no one has ever attempted it and survived to tell the tale: recover a priceless object from the Turtle Merchants’ impregnable palace. Intrigued by the man and the challenge, Eric accepts—but the stranger is none other than the legendary airship captain known as the Tea Demon, terror of the Sea of Clouds. Eric must come up with the best plan in history if he wants to complete his job… and survive it too.
Eric Devon is a thief who is drowning his boredom and lack of purpose in liquor. That is, until he is offered a job by Jonathan Tea a.k.a. The Tea Demon, the legendary pirate – “a fearless warrior whose rage could only be quenched by a cup of the finest tea”. The fact that he is attracted to the man and that no one has ever succeeded in stealing from the Turtle Merchants and lived to tell the tale only makes Tea’s offer more attractive.
For such a short story, The Tea Demon has a lot going for it. I particularly liked how the author introduced us to her protagonists in a scene which perfectly highlighted both their personal traits and their mutual attraction. It sucked me right into the story, it was delicious and it culminated in a bar fight that could easily find its place in any spaghetti western or Errol Flynn movie. Fun!
But, what impressed me more is the shift in the story that took us from the crowded, smoky inn to the world of the Sea of Clouds. Due to the length limitations you get only a sketch of it, but that was enough to take my breath away. I would have liked to learn more about the society behind it, because it must be complex and impressive, but I understood why the author didn’t go there.
Jonathan introduces Eric to his small crew – Addeline (Call me Addy!), a young girl, ship’s second mate and a cook, and Howard, a dwarf, mechanic and chief engineer. They aren’t particularly happy with Eric’s involvement and Jonathan expertly avoids telling him what exactly is the priceless item he has to retrieve (which makes the revelation even funnier), but Eric is too intrigued – by the man, by his reputation, by the challenge – to back out. And, Eric is in the perfect position to put the captain’s demons – pun intended – at rest, which is something they both find beneficial. These guys burn the pages, literally and figuratively!
There is an old fashioned adventure feel to this story which was perfectly fitting for this setting and both main characters. They come across as daredevils with a taste for adventure and intrigues and, while we don’t learn much about their backgrounds, what we did learn about them was enough to charm me. Their attraction was palpable and the promise of more believable. I particularly liked the humor, some of it very tongue-in-cheek. It was clear that the author had a lot of fun writing this. I know I had a lot of fun reading it. The writing was tight and, at times, truly beautiful. I like how the author is capable of capturing the mood or the situation in a few brief sentences. In a short story, that is always a plus.
So far, I’ve read a couple of Grey’s stories (Apples and Regret and Wasted Time reviewed by Feliz here and The Mercenary) and I enjoyed both her writing and her imagination a lot. The Tea Demon was no different. It captured my imagination and, while it left me wanting more, it was completely satisfying. I want to see it as the beginning of a beautiful friendship (and love) between Eric and his Tea Demon. For all of you who aren’t familiar with Cornelia Grey’s stories, this is a good place to start. Highly recommended.