ARC Review: Black Water Sister

Title: Black Water Sister
Author: Zen Cho
ebook – ARC
Page Count: 
Publisher: Ace Books
Synopsis: GoodReads, StoryGraph
Notable Notables: 
Malaysian lesbian main character, Malaysian setting and mythology, Chinese culture
Recommended Readers: 
Fans of Yangsze Choo and anyone looking for a modern, magical Southeast Asian read
CAWPILE Rating: 9.29
Rating: ★★★★★

Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher, for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

Contemporary fiction is not a genre I usually pick up because most of it simply doesn’t interest me. Contemporary fantasy, however, is an entirely different matter, and Zen Cho’s Black Water Sister struck gold with me from the very first chapter.

If you’ve read and loved either Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride or The Night Tiger, then the setting, tone, and mythology of Black Water Sister may come across as familiar to you, to say nothing of someone who already has a Malaysian background. I only mention Yangsze Choo because 1) I love her works and 2) she started this love for Malaysian contemporary fantasy that I possess now, and I am beyond delighted that Zen Cho has contributed to that love. I cannot wait to check out Cho’s other books now.

Black Water Sister opens with jobless Harvard graduate Jessamyn Teoh moving back with her family to Malaysia after her father loses his job in America. Between hiding her lesbian relationship from her traditional parents, attempting to re-assimilate to a country and culture she hasn’t been a part of in decades, and adjust to the sudden swarm of relatives, Jess is understandably stressed. Hearing voices should come as no surprise—except the voice she hears is the ghost of her estranged, opinionated grandmother, Ah Ma, who was a spirit medium to a god called the Black Water Sister. Now, Ah Ma wants Jess to help her exact vengeance on a gang boss and businessman who has offended the god, or she won’t be able to pass on to the afterlife. However, the more Jess becomes entrenched in the supernatural, the more her own life and destiny are thrown into jeopardy.

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ARC Review: The Descent of the Drowned

Title: The Descent of the Drowned
Ana Lal Din
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
ARC – ebook
Page Count: 373
Publisher: White Tigress Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: 
Diverse cast, Pre-Islamic Arabian mythology
Recommended Readers: 
Anyone looking for a slow-building yet gripping read with two main characters who stand on their own
CAWPILE Rating: 9.14
Star Rating: ★★★★★

Thank you, to NetGalley and the publisher, for offering this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

A dark, compelling read, The Descent of the Drowned by Ana Lal Din immensely impressed me with its rich cultural descriptions, complicated characters, and slow-building plot. So much so that I already own a copy for myself.

Inspired by pre-Islamic Arabian mythology and culture, The Descent of the Drowned is the start of a YA fantasy trilogy that definitely leans hard on the older side of the scale due to its many heavy themes, which are addressed headfirst and unflinchingly. I recently read a book that equally horrified and enraged me at how gratuitous its violence and sexual themes were to be directed at a younger audience than truly appropriate. Therefore, my guard was up when I started this book, which tackles topics regarding sacred prostitution, rape, sexual assault, torture, self harm, suicide ideation, and many others.

Turns out I needn’t have bothered to be so wary. Each of these issues—and others—are treated with the gravity, horror, and fury they rightfully deserve. Readers have time to sit with these issues along with the characters and experience how these issues affect and inform the characters and their world, which is lovingly detailed with rich descriptions juxtaposed against the ugliness of human trafficking, transphobia, rape culture, caste systems, ethnic cleansing, and other cruelties. While reading, nothing ever felt glossed over or overdone, yet I also never felt hopelessly mired down by darkness. That’s because Lal Din managed to walk a delicate line between bringing awareness to these issues while also crafting a sincerely enjoyable story with characters I couldn’t help but be drawn to and root for.

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ARC Review: Persephone Station

Title: Persephone Station
Author: Stina Leicht
Genre: Adult Sci-Fi
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 512
Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: Characters that are predominately female and non-binary with LGBTQ+ rep
Recommended Readers: Seekers of feminism in space opera
CAWPILE Rating: 3.14
Star Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Thank you, to NetGalley and the publisher, for offering this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

I was taken in by Stina Leicht’s Persephone Station the moment I saw its beautifully artistic cover and was sold when I read what it was being compared to: a blend of Cowboy Bebop and The Mandalorian but with a leading cast of women, non-binary, and queer characters.

Upon reading it, however, my excitement quickly fizzled. By far the coolest thing about the book is its cover, not the representation it delivers. The author seems to have focused so hard on providing good, squeaky-clean diversity and rep that she forgot a key element: making the characters and its plot interesting. There isn’t a hint of the eclectic friction found in the Cowboy Bebop cast, and it’s also sorely missing the heart of The Mandalorian. If I could sum up Persephone Station and its characters in a few words, they would be “safe and boring.”

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Book Review: Spin the Dawn

spin the dawn
 Spin the Dawn
 Elizabeth Lim
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 400
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Synopsis: GoodReads
Notable Notables: Chinese-based culture and diverse cast
Recommended Readers: Anyone looking for diverse, magical stories; also fashion!
Rating: ★★★★☆

Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher, for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I was ecstatic to get Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim because the cover is utterly gorgeous (seriously, look at it, I weep) and the story sounded so intriguing!

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming a master tailor, but despite her skill and vision, women are forbidden from taking such a role in A’landi. After misfortune befalls her family, leaving them more destitute than they’ve ever been, Maia also has the opportunity to jump at her chance: a royal messenger has summoned her father, a once renowned tailor, to court. Posing as her brother Keton, Maia travels to court as a boy to take part in a grand competition. If she can prove her mettle against eleven other tailors, she will become the Imperial Tailor. If she can’t, she and her family will be out of options outside of marrying her off—that is, if she isn’t discovered as a girl and put to death first.

However, treachery from her fellow competitors lurks around every corner, and the court enchanter, Edan, seems to peer straight through her disguise. And then the final challenge arrives, one that has previously been impossible to fulfill. To appease the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, Maia must embark on a journey to find the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of the stars and craft three dresses from them. But these dresses were never supposed to exist, so what will it mean for Maia and the kingdom if she actually succeeds?

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