Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Book Review #548

Title: Black Water Sister

Author: Zen Cho

Publisher: Ace Books

Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary

Format: Paperback

Source: Times Reads

Publication Date: May 11, 2021

Pages: 384

A reluctant medium discovers the ties that bind can unleash a dangerous power in this compelling Malaysian-set contemporary fantasy.

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. 

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho is such an extraordinary take on contemporary Malaysia, specifically set in Penang with an urban fantasy twist about the ghost of a long lost Ah Ma, various gods and the deep connection of a family. This book is so intriguing with all the mysterious hidden secrets and the Black Water Sister who is both haunting and captivating – you do not want to be her enemy.

I honestly just didn’t know what to expect with this book and it has managed to surprise me from time and time again as the pages flicker away. The writing is utterly beautiful and mesmerising that I couldn’t put it down. It is so interesting reading about the main character, Jess who just moved from the US back to Malaysia, settling in a new place amidst the strange yet familiar surrounding. And it got even more interesting when the demanding Ah Ma comes into the picture as the sidekick just being a typical Asian grandmother, nagging away even in death.

At one point, I didn’t even know who the villain is. Whether it is Ah Ma, Black Water Sister or Ng Chee Hin. Everyone seems bad at some point but you will have no choice but to read until the very end where it will all be revealed. But I was really hoping for more closure with certain aspects, it just ended so suddenly.

This is overall a fun and amazing read that tackles on sensitive issues like homophobia, sexual assault and racism. And I would totally still recommend as it is such a great book with a memorable plot, journeying along uncharted territory to a whole new discovery, the target to be the next medium for the peculiar Black Water Sister and the bond between a family that no matter what happens, they will always have your back.

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