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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2021 Zen Cho (P)2021 Recorded Books

What listeners say about Black Water Sister

Average Customer Ratings
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5 Stars across the board!

Couldn’t put this one down! If you’ve even thought in passing of checking this one out, DO IT! Jess moves to Malaysia with her parents, only to wind up possessed by her grandmother’s ghost. Ah Ma was the medium for the god Black Water Sister and is determined to have Jess become the god’s next medium so the god can take revenge on a developer who plans to redevelop her temple. Of course Jess, who spent most of her life in the US, has no idea what she’s agreeing to and quickly gets in over her head. To be fair, she does try to bargain with Ah Ma, but knowing the duplicitous nature of many spirits, we were anticipating betrayal. If only Jess had read the Dresden Files! 😂 Jess must figure out who to trust, while juggling complicated family dynamics, cultural expectations, and a secret lesbian romance. Zen Cho does an excellent job balancing insider and outsider cultural perspectives, making this story accessible to any reader. She keeps the twists coming and the ending is unforeseen, powerful, and satisfying.

Catherine Ho does a brilliant job narrating. So brilliant we’re disappointed she’s not narrating Zen Cho’s upcoming short story collection Spirits Abroad. Emily Woo Zeller, who seems to be Audible’s go-to for female Asian narration, was tapped instead. And Zeller is great. But Catherine Ho really gets the potent combination of emotion, magic, and gritty reality in Black Water Sister and brings it all out for the listener. While she does use accents for some characters, it’s never difficult to understand and all the voices are distinct.

The very first sentence was confusing because it ends in a Hokien word. We weren’t expecting that and at first thought we had misheard. Keep going; the word will be explained. This was the only instance where the experience suffered from being audio, simply because we couldn’t tell it was a non-English word and not terrible narration or our hearing by looking at the text.

A Word to the Wise (Content Warnings)

Major: Sexual assault, homophobia, violence, manipulation/gaslighting, religious abuse.

Moderate: Heteronormativity.

Minor: Brief mention of drugs.

12 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Brilliant writing - smart, hip, perceptive

The writing is sharp, the story moves quickly, the juxtaposition of smart phones and their apps with cultural diversity and heritage is fun. This is a brilliant work of writing and such a pleasure to experience as a reader / listener. I fear that xenophobic / conservative types will abhor the new and unfamiliar names and the lesbian main character. Their loss. The familiar is how families work, bosses and corporations and politics work, how religious beliefs work, and how we all struggle to find our place. The observations about people are perceptive. The writing deft. The narration is perfect. I was a little out of my depth with all the newness, but at the same time intrigued and fascinated. Highly recommend because lately a lot of "writers" have been trying their hand at urban fantasy and it's been frustrating to find the wheat in the chaff. This is called contemporary fantasy, but it's the same as urban fantasy to me. I don't know why this was put in "Horror" and hope it will be properly categorized in the future.

7 people found this helpful

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Another all-star from Zen Cho

I loved everything about this books- the characters and setting were lush, dynamic and fully realized. The story was both esoteric and approachable- this may be the most identifiable ghost and god story I've ever read. There are also layers to this tale which come together in a delicious tiered cake wrapped in phenomenal narration. Nothing was unnecessary but it never felt sparse, the stakes felt real and the anxiety, helplessness, power and thrills were all beautifully rendered.
I like to go into a familiar author without knowing anything about the story and recommend you not seek spoilers either. This is a 10/10 recommend.

2 people found this helpful

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Great Paranormal Story with a SE Asian Twist

Jess' adventure isn't just one that is a foray into the world of the paranormal, it's also one of introspection. Memories of others are echoed in the daily struggles she encounters bring the gruesome history of her estranged family members to the forefront as we explore their stories.

There is a bit of a drag toward the beginning and the middle of the story where even as a Southeast Asian, I cannot relate or even really begin to like Jess as a character. She is flawed and weak until otherworldly intervention makes her otherwise.

I picked up this title as a recommendation from a spotlight of new AAPI works, and can only assume this is intended as a young adult work due to the language and content as well as references to contemporary things such as apps or companies.

Overall, the narrator carries this work as I would have put the book down before I ever got to any of the decent parts. The author takes the scenic route in being needlessly descriptive at times, and I feel that we could have gotten to the point much sooner. A decent read, though I'm glad it doesn't seem to be part of a series.

2 people found this helpful

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Truly enjoyable!

I loved this book! Catherine Ho's performance really brought it to life and let me experience the music of the language, bringing me right into the powerful, layered story Zen Cho has created. It really got me, and I'll definitely be listening to it again.

2 people found this helpful

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I didn't want a young adult story..

..or to have obvious things spelled out for me.

but that's all I got. fifteen words minimum.

1 person found this helpful

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pleasantly surprised

started off well but was a teeny bit slow to pick up. glad I kept going. the story is GOOD. and Catherine Ho does a wonderful job narrating. loved this story. I chose it on a whim and I was not disappointed!

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Great story

I haven't bothered with writing reviews on Audible before but feel compelled to add my 5 stars to this. Admittedly I am biased being of Malaysian origin and of the same dialect group as described in the story though from the other side of the country, not Penang, but this story is so emblematic of Chinese-Malaysian families. Never mind the ghost aspect, which is funny and not really the main point, the interactions between the protagonists are straight out of the late 20th century SE Asian family playbook. Some film producer shuld snap up the rigts to this book - its funnier than Crazy Rich Asians, more realistic (no tycoon heroes, thank god) and has a more nuanced female central character. Just listen to this !

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Really picks up at the halfway point

I loved this read, but not til the second half. I was anticipating the mix of fear and power of being the medium of a God, but it didn’t start to get to that point until the halfway mark. I’d have liked more for the first half, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It was really good and the story was different from my usual read. I would definitely read another book by Zen Cho.

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Fantastic in every sense of the word

I love this book! A Chinese-Malay Harvard graduate experiences a haunted homecoming when her parents must return to Penang after facing a health scare and financial difficulties in the US. The very very deeply closeted Jess, a compliant and coddled single child, is in for the culture shock of her life when her recently deceasd maternal grandmother--a tough, cantankerous survivor long estranged from her only daughter--takes up residence in Jess's mind. It doesn't help that her family must live in the affluent, busy household of Jess's nosy (and ostentatiously Christian) paternal aunt. Zen Cho brings the sounds, sights and scents of urban Malaysia to life, as well as vigorous ghosts and gods and the mediums who channel them. Somehow, we never once doubt the down-to-earth nearness of the supernatural in its relationship to the world of the living. Catherine Ho's narration is perfection, clear as daylight but deliciously inflected with Chinese and South Asian speech mannerisms in the voices of the many characters who cross Jess's path. The story deals with frightening, unacknowledged crimes, buried family histories, the friction between traditional Asian parenting and modern American youth culture; but overall it is upbeat and often very funny. Jess, for all her repression and evasiveness, is intellectually fearless, and her ornery grandmother teaches her a thing or two about her own physical courage and the toxic rage that can build "in a prison of your own making." As it happens, Jess gets to teach her grandmother a thing or two about channeling that rage, and learning to leave it behind. The plot turns on the challenge posed by a huge real estate development to the survival of the urban garden that enshrines a local deity. Jess's grandmother had been the goddess's chosen medium, and has returned (or failed to move on) in order to defend the shrine to which she remains bound--until Jess is hand-picked by the goddess (quite literally) to represent her to the living. The different kinds of supernatural possession (including dreams) are compellingly depicted. Jess is our POV character, but via an omniscient-third-person narration that allows us to look inside her psyche, and see through her eyes the newly unveiled magical reality in which she's been thrust. If I could, I'd give this book 10 stars.

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  • 05-21-21

4 stars

Zen Cho delivers! Character driven and full of folklore, Black Water Sister is funny, dark, and strong.

Trigger warnings: kidnapping, sexual assault, domestic violence.

1 person found this helpful