ARC Review: BLACK WATER SISTER by Zen Cho

I received an eARC from the publishers through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Title in white on blue next to blured image of face
Genre: fantasy (contemporary/urban)
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 star
Series: standalone

Synopsis:

Book cover for BLACK WATER

HER GRANDMOTHER MAY BE DEAD BUT SHE’S NOT DONE WITH LIFE . . . YET

As Jessamyn packs for Malaysia, it’s not a good time to start hearing a bossy voice in her head. Broke, jobless and just graduated, she’s abandoning America to return ‘home’. But she last saw Malaysia as a toddler – and is completely unprepared for its ghosts, gods and her eccentric family’s shenanigans.

Jess soon learns her ‘voice’ belongs to Ah Ma, her late grandmother. She worshipped the Black Water Sister, a local deity. And when a business magnate dared to offend her goddess, Ah Ma swore revenge. Now she’s decided Jess will help, whether she wants to or not.

As Ah Ma blackmails Jess into compliance, Jess fights to retain control. But her irrepressible relative isn’t going to let a little thing like death stop her, when she can simply borrow Jess’s body to make mischief. As Jess is drawn ever deeper into a world of peril and family secrets, getting a job becomes the least of her worries. 

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

In some ways, BLACK WATER SISTER was very much not what I was expecting. The “granny possessing her granddaughter to get even” promo made me expect a more comedic story than this is. There are funny moments, but it was largely a serious story.

It also really didn’t go where I was expecting, with several moments and revelations swinging the story onto a new track, and upping the problems Jess was facing. It was a really dynamic story that kept me on my toes.

At the heart of the story is an immersion into various religions. There are gods who can possess people – known as mediums – and various spirits, like ghosts. There is also Jess’ Christian relatives trying to help with her possession/haunting issue. The collision between the various parts of the religions, and Jess’ inexperience creates a rather terrifying set of forces for Jess to deal with.

As someone who doesn’t know about the traditional religions and mythologies of the region, I had no idea what their abilities were. It made them all the more frightening as they could conceivably do anything, and the whole possession idea was rather horrifying.

Family is central to the story too, the complicate tangle of relations that we love but also have to juggle. It was so nice to see a graduate with no clue about what’s happening in her life still living with her parents and trying to juggle being an adult, and having had independence, but also being a child at home. After a year unexpectedly at home, that push and pull really resonated.

I did read Zen Cho’s debut a while back, and didn’t exactly get on with it, but I’d like to give it another try now, see if I like it more now that I know what I’m expecting. Plus, friends have been telling me I need to read the sequel since it came out!


Read my reviews of other books by Zen Cho:

Sorcerer Royal:

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