Zen Cho is one of those underhyped authors. Having enjoyed Sorcerer to the Crown I was so excited for Black Water Sister which delivers paranormal action, a lesbian MC, and a story about family. For anyone who enjoyed Cho’s previous series, Black Water Sister maintains the steady thrum of paranormal action! Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.
Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god–and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it.
Drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and family secrets, Jess finds that making deals with capricious spirits is a dangerous business. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny. If she fails, the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: assault, sexual assault
I can’t figured out which I loved more: the character of Jess or Cho’s spectacular ability to deliver paranormal action. If you read Sorcerer to the Crown then you might be familiar with the way Cho is able to weave complex paranormal story lines. There are always pieces waiting to be woven together and revealed. Immediately I was so draw to Jess because she manages to straddle this responsibility to her family, with the sheer character growth we witness in Black Water Sister.
Amidst this chaos, and paranormal intrigue, Jess is stuck between needing to figure out where her own future lies, while also managing the responsibility she feels to her family. The ways they have to make their lives smaller, had smaller lives, in the US and the difference it is for them to me back in Malaysia. Maybe it’s just the stage of my life, but this was incredibly relatable to me, especially as she struggles with both. But then add in all this otherworldly action? And you have a story which features a complicated MC who also has to discover herself. Because what can seem like obedience, a desire not to cause waves, can also be the ways we don’t have to confront ourselves.
Black Water Sister allows readers to unravel a story about family secrets. About the struggles between modernization, capitalism, and traditions. While there are some places where I felt the pacing struggling a bit, as a whole I enjoyed the way Cho delivers characters and ghostly actions with relevant and thought provoking questions. The ending was incredibly satisfying and turned around some of my opinions on Black Water Sister. Cho’s novel also examines the ways women are wronged in society and the ways it doesn’t protect them. If we don’t want to keep repeating the trauma in our lives, our families, we have to deal with them – give them light and space to breathe.
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