Black Water Sister (2021, Ace) 4 stars

A reluctant medium discovers the ties that bind can unleash a dangerous power in this …

A contemporary fantasy novel set in Malaysia that captures how locals (both living and spiritual) live their lives here.

4 stars

A good contemporary fantasy story set in Malaysia involving local spirits. It also serves as an introduction to the world of spirits in the region. As a former Malaysian now in Singapore, the non-fantasy aspects of Malaysian society and culture featured in the book ring true, while the fantasy aspects do have solid roots in how spirits are worshipped by local people. But on to the actual review. :-)

The book centres around Jessamyn Teoh, who is reluctantly moving back to Malaysia from the US with her parents. But from the start, strange things happens when a voice in her head begins to speak to her. This turns out to be her maternal grandmother, who has a bone to pick with a wealthy Malaysian who is developing land on which a shrine that is the home to the spirit of Black Water Sister is sitting.

Jessamyn reluctantly agrees to help her grandmother, if only to be rid of her. But as the story develops, clues are dropped, by both her grandmother and the relatives she meets in Penang, Malaysia (the main setting of the story) that begin to show that she may be involved in more than just a battle over a shrine. It would centre over the murky past of her grandmother and also the chilling spirit that is the Black Water Sister, whose influence may cause Jessamyn to lose her own self, if she is not careful over who is in charge of events: sometimes violent events.

The book features a lot of local slang, and I find it surprising that the book has found an audience in the West, judging from the praise it has received. But I suppose this lies in the skill of the author, being able to produce a book that captures the atmosphere of actually living in Malaysia while still being appreciated by others.

I look forward to reading her other works, especially those set in the local culture.