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Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Black Water Sister (edition 2021)

by Zen Cho (Author)

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1545140,145 (4.03)7
Title:Black Water Sister
Authors:Zen Cho (Author)
Info:Ace (2021), 384 pages
Collections:Audiobooks, Your library, Read

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Black Water Sister by Zen Cho


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» See also 7 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
It's more of a 3.5 but I am rounding up.

CW: Attempted kidnapping/rape.

I have thought about reading Zen Cho's fantasy books many times before, but my TBR is enormous and I hardly ever find time to read backlist titles. But when I first saw the cover of Black Water Sister, I was immediately impressed and adding it to my list, despite not usually going for paranormal or urban fantasy stories. Having been very glad for getting the ARC, I started reading it and completely felt immersed in this spooky world.

I think I've read only a couple of novels set in Malaysia, so it was quite fascinating to be in this setting. The author also does a great job bringing Penang to life, especially the multi-religious diversity of the place as well the deep beliefs in gods and mediums. As someone who has grown up religious but whose relationship with faith has changed over the years, the idea of ghosts and gods and possession, as well as other superstitions that form a major part of this story, didn't feel impossible to me at all and I could feel myself transported into this world. The plot is also very interesting - involving past family secrets, a high capital real estate project, a god with an incomplete revenge who is unhappy with the project affecting her temple, and a young woman already stressed with her move from America and a secret of her own, now trying to figure out a way out of her supernatural entanglements. The pacing did feel a little slow at times but it picked up immediately, and the dialogue with a generous use of Hokkien and Malay words as well as a very informal style of speaking definitely helped with my enjoyment. However, I have a feeling that this might feel even better as an audiobook if narrated by someone who knows the language.

Jess was such a relatable protagonist. While being a lesbian was an important part of her identity and she was very scared about telling her parents the truth, this is not a coming out story and I liked that, because we deserve all kinds of stories with LGBT protagonists. While she is natually skeptical initially about the whole possession by a ghost thing, it was very interesting to see her come to terms with it, and then struggle everyday to fulfil her grandmother's wishes while also trying not to lose herself. At the same time, she is also dealing with her family situation, especially her mother's fragile mental state and her father's hardships. There were times I really got mad at her mom because I thought she was emotionally blackmailing Jess and I don't know if that was what the author wanted to project, but it was too close to my heart not to react that way. Over the years, I have really come to resent most Asian parents' expectation of their child to be filial forever at the expense of their own desires, and I guess I have become prone to react emotionally to such situations even in a fictional story. However, I appreciated how Jess kept her cool even in dire circumstances and took decisive actions when necessary. It felt like she gained confidence and clarity about herself by the end of the story and I loved that for her. I don't have much to say about other side characters, coz they didn't leave much of an impression on me except Ah Ma, who was a grumpy ghost grandma and her interactions with Jess were mostly quite funny.

In the end, while there were some things that didn't feel upto the mark for me, this was still a well written enjoyable story and I would love to read more about the author. There were also times where I felt the resolutions felt too convenient, but I guess that's not too unexpected in a book full of ghosts and gods. With a very brave protagonist at the centre, the author has woven an intricate story of family, faith and identity that will transport you into the setting and make you believe in Jess's convictions.
( )
  ksahitya1987 | Aug 20, 2021 |
LOVED this book.

It’s terrifically written with a strong sense of place and culture, led by a compelling heroine. Incredible read. And that cover 😍 ( )
  tetiana.90 | Jul 23, 2021 |
Black Water Sister
by Zen Cho

Wow! This was written so wonderfully! Jess moves back to Malaysia with her parents after she grew up in America and graduated from college. Her girlfriend, which her parents doesn't know she has, plans to move there to work later.

Things get complicated right away. She starts hearing voices. She blames it on stress. The voice tells her it's her grandmother, her mom's mother. Her mom never speaks about her mom and says little about that side of the family. This grandmother also happened to die last year.

It's a wild ride through ghosts, gods, vengeful spirits, family secrets, corporate greed, mediums, and social norms.
It's got some brutal parts, funny parts, and educational parts! Black Water Sister is the name of a god that many fear with good reason. Jess learns this along the way. ( )
  MontzaleeW | Jun 8, 2021 |
Black Water Sister is a refreshing Malaysian-set contemporary fantasy written in a compelling voice that will keep you turning pages well past your bedtime.

Jess has a lot on her plate. She might have graduated from Harvard but she’s jobless, closeted, in the middle of a move back to Malaysia with her parents, and she’s hearing the voice of her dead grandmother in her head. It’s not enough that she’s trying to keep a long distance relationship secret while living with her parents and her aunt’s family in a new country. What she initially believes is the stress finally getting to her turns out to be the first step into a world of spirits, gods and mediums that will take Jess to the breaking point – and past it. Read the rest of this review at Allusory Book Reviews

Disclosure: This review is based on a digital galley provided by the publisher through Netgalley. ( )
  midnightbex | May 12, 2021 |
Jessamyn Teoh grew up a Malaysian immigrant in the United States and now, as an adult with a degree but no job, finds herself an immigrant in her country of birth when she returns with her parents in the aftermath of her father's illness and job loss. As her stress mounts from worry about her parents, living with extended family, and managing a long-distance relationship with her out girlfriend while being in the closet, she starts hearing her dead grandmother's voice in her head.

A contemporary urban fantasy that starts out light but evolves into something more unsettling and complex. As I read, I experienced laughter, frustration, hope, fear, excitement, commiseration, horror, relief, and joy, and I leave it feeling as though Jess were my life-long friend.

CONTENT ADVISORY: scenes depicting intimate partner abuse, attempted rape, homophobia, and colorism

I received a complimentary advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  Zoes_Human | Jan 24, 2021 |
Showing 5 of 5
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zen Choprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ho, CatherineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lagerman, JudithCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Onoda, YutaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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