Jess is startled to hear a voice in her head, but with her family moving back to Malaysia and her father recovering from an illness, she believes it’s just stress. But, when she starts hearing it again, she discovers that she is being haunted by the spirit of her estranged grandmother. Jess knows nothing of her grandmother and begins to learn that she lived a mysterious and dangerous life as a spirit medium to the small god, Black Water Sister. In order to help her grandmother’s spirit move on, Jess needs to save the temple of the god from a gangster real-estate developer. What follows is a wild ride through both real-world Malaysia and the spirit world.
This is a really unique novel that is dripping with suspense and compelling characters. The book is intricately plotted, so it’s a struggle to summarize, but I’ll do my best!
Jess is a young woman facing an uncertain future. She has a girlfriend, but is closeted and nervous about coming out to her parents. She graduated from Harvard, but is struggling to find a job and decide what she wants to do with her life. She also feels an overwhelming sense of duty to her parents which is stopping her from living life to the fullest. She’s a really dynamic character dealing with a range of emotions while also being quick-witted and very funny. Conversations between strong-willed Jess and her even more strong-willed grandmother are always filled with snarky back-and-forth that help propel the story. I loved learning more about Jess’s grandmother, Ah Ma, who lived a fascinating and deeply difficult life.
The crux of the story centers on a real-estate developer’s plan to bulldoze a temple site to build apartment buildings. Ah Ma’s ghost needs Jess to stop that from happening, as the temple is the site of the important altar to the Black Water Sister, a vengeful god who helped Ah Ma in the past. In order to get Ah Ma out of her head, Jess begins working on saving the temple site by speaking with the developer’s son. However, she soon learns that the developer is a gangster and her life becomes incredibly dangerous as she meddles further. To complicate things further, Jess angers Black Water Sister and the god begins stalking her, demanding retribution. If you’re feeling confused by these plots, so was I at times! I overall enjoyed the book, but did find it hard to juggle the various plot points as the narrative progressed. Because of that, the book was a slow read for me at times, even with the building of suspense.
Cho is an excellent writer and created a story that feels very immersive. Despite the vengeful gods and spirits, the book made me want to visit Malaysia. It gets to be quite violent, but I think the various characters really shine in this urban fantasy.
I really enjoyed reading this one and would love to hear from you! Have you read Black Water Sister? What did you think?
CW: death, graphic injuries, hallucinations, memory loss, abuse,