Sunday, January 17, 2016

Review: The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson

The Girl with Ghost Eyes
Author:  M.H. Boroson
Publisher:  Talos, November 3, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 288 pages
List Price:  $24.99 (print); $16.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781940456362 (print); 9781940456454 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

"A brilliant tale of magic, monsters, and kung fu in the San Francisco Chinatown of 1898" —Publishers Weekly, starred review

It’s the end of the nineteenth century in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and ghost hunters from the Maoshan traditions of Daoism keep malevolent spiritual forces at bay. Li-lin, the daughter of a renowned Daoshi exorcist, is a young widow burdened with yin eyes—the unique ability to see the spirit world. Her spiritual visions and the death of her husband bring shame to Li-lin and her father—and shame is not something this immigrant family can afford.

When a sorcerer cripples her father, terrible plans are set in motion, and only Li-lin can stop them. To aid her are her martial arts and a peachwood sword, her burning paper talismans, and a wisecracking spirit in the form of a human eyeball tucked away in her pocket. Navigating the dangerous alleys and backrooms of a male-dominated Chinatown, Li-lin must confront evil spirits, gangsters, and soulstealers before the sorcerer’s ritual summons an ancient evil that could burn Chinatown to the ground.

With a rich and inventive historical setting, nonstop martial arts action, authentic Chinese magic, and bizarre monsters from Asian folklore, The Girl with Ghost Eyes is also the poignant story of a young immigrant searching to find her place beside the long shadow of a demanding father and the stigma of widowhood. In a Chinatown caught between tradition and modernity, one woman may be the key to holding everything together.

Doreen’s Thoughts

The Girl with the Ghost Eyes is a terrific fairytale, filled with magic and martial arts. Set at the end of the 19th Century in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the story centers around Li-lin, the widowed daughter of the local exorcist. The world is filled with spirits, ghosts, and monsters, and Li-lin’s father is responsible to eliminate those for his tong (gang). However, one of the tongs is dissatisfied with the distribution of power in Chinatown and is willing to use black magic to change that.

Normally, Li-lin’s father would handle the situation by burning his paper talismans, but someone cast a spell on Li-lin, and he sacrificed his eye to bring her back from the spirit world. Now he is injured and Li-lin must step up and try to fill his shoes. In the beginning of the novel, Li-lin is certain that her father is, at best, burdened with her. In Chinese culture, all parents desire a boy who can care for them in their old age; as a girl, Li-lin believed she was a disappointment to her father. In addition, her husband Rockie had been killed in a confrontation with a white policeman, so she was forced to return to her father’s home, yet another disappointment.

However, through the novel, Li-lin discovers that her father loves her more than she knows. My favorite character in this story was Mr. Yanqiu. He is a spirit in the shape of an eyeball, basically the result of Li-lin’s father sacrificing his eye. He is fussy and wise, with all of the best characteristics of any father. The banter between Li-lin and Mr. Yanqiu is humorous, and one can tell that Mr. Yanqiu is the manifestation of a father’s love for his daughter.

M. H. Boroson does an excellent job integrating Chinese culture, language, and beliefs into the story. The descriptions of Li-lin burning her paper talismans and releasing spells are precise and exact. There are several kung fu action scenes in the story as well. Boroson describes and names the forms so well, you can almost see the action.

Ultimately, from appearing to be the weakest person in the story, Li-lin ends the story as the strongest character, especially in keeping her word to the many allies that she makes throughout the novel. Her father, who appeared to be so strong, is revealed to be less perfect than Li-lin expected. Overall, Li-lin grows up and begins to see her father in a more realistic light. In fact, all of the men that Li-lin believed to be superior to her are in actuality less than she is. Li-lin takes her place in a world that is halfway between reality and myth, with everyone, including herself, finally acknowledging her strength and power.


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