Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Series: Xian Li-lin #1
Published by Audible Studios on February 23, 2016
Genres: Historical Fantasy
Length: 9 hrs 51 mins
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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.
The Girl with Ghost Eyes is an enjoyable read, but I felt like it was straddling the line between YA and adult historical fantasy, which threw me off a little. I can’t put my finger on why it felt like that. Li-lin is not a teenager, she’s in her early 20s, I think, and a widow. So, it’s not her age. There isn’t a love triangle. I listened to the audio, and maybe the writing sounded a bit simple at times and there were definitely repetitive sections. I don’t know. Am I the only one who got that feeling? I listened to the audio and was glad that I did. Zeller brings Li-lin to life, but I also like to hear the Chinese words and phrases, not try to struggle with reading them.
Li-lin is a good character. She is tough and strong and a talented martial artist. She’s also a Daoist exorcist who has ghost eyes, meaning she can see all the spirits, ghosts and monsters that others don’t. But being a woman – and a widow, in Chinatown in the late 1890s is not easy. Her father is mean. I’m sorry, I know the it fits for the cultural and time, but he is condescending to her, does not give her the respect she deserves. The whole time I’m thinking maybe he does truly care about her, just isn’t able to show it, but in the end he totally disappointed me. Maybe that’s part of it, the issues with her dad. He treats her as if she is younger and less experienced than she is and she constantly needs to prove herself. She tends to dwell on things too, which gets a little annoying.
Tongs control Chinatown, but there is conflict between the new ways and the old ways. There’s a power struggle shaping up and the magical power that might be unleashed could destroy hundreds of lives. Of course, it’s up to Li-lin to save the day. I will say the author does not make it easy for her. She has helpers, but not many and she’s forced to make deals that may backfire on her. In some ways though, the constant need for action and fight scenes takes away from the story, at least for me.
I haven’t read many (any?) fantasy novels that use Chinese folklore as their base, and I really liked that aspect of the novel. I loved the descriptions of the creatures and spirits. I think Boroson did a good job building his Chinatown, giving us a good feel for both the Chinese culture and the immigrang experience.