Book Review: The Girl with the Ghost Eyes

My take: A little too much Idiot Ball.

I wanted to like M.H. Boroson’s book. Lots of interesting monsters, magic, an intriguing point in history. But….

The first problem is that the author really didn’t wrap his mind around Deliberate Values Dissonance. Li-lin knows prostitution is a common fate for Chinese women in San Francisco, knows the Tongs run it, knows how much power they have in Chinatown. And we’re told over and over that she knows how much social status and power she lacks in relation to everyone else.

Yet we’re supposed to believe she has never considered one of these Tongs might try to force her into prostitution, and has absolutely no plans for how she might defend herself from that fate? It feels like getting a modern teenager’s horrified reaction, not a young Chinese widow who supposedly knows how the world works. This… willful naiveté in the character doesn’t fit everything else we’re told about her.

Then there’s the point where she signs a Tong contract without even reading it. That’s when I really wanted to hurl the book at the wall.

But the most troubling flaw in the story was the social environment around the character. I know urban fantasy protagonists are usually stuck with “one man against the world” situations, but all Li-lin’s human friends that we meet turn out to be enemies, her father makes it clear he’s only helping to save face, and people she ask for help either don’t believe her, try to take advantage of her, or both. (The exception being one guy running a cable car. And what he tries doesn’t work.)

I did like the cat spirit and the little eyeball. But… not one true human ally? That’s a horrible life to be living. I don’t want to be in that protagonist’s shoes, no matter how interesting the setting. So it kicked me right out of the story.

If you can take the emotional torment of picturing yourself as a friendless, betrayed Chinese exorcist in 1898 San Francisco, this book has an interesting setting and intriguing uses of magic. If you’re looking for an emotional pick-me-up of the main character defeating the villain and restoring order to save her friends – you want a different book. Reread Bridge of Birds instead.

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Girl with the Ghost Eyes

  1. I recently had to put down an ebook for mostly the same reasons, as I could see the main problem coming in about ten pages, yet the main character, who had lived all her life on these stories, couldn’t even begin to guess what was going on and got herself stuck in a way no sane person would. Add in that the things she didn’t know are common enough for me to know and I don’t even have that much contact with the culture!

    The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo. Which is a pity, because I actually like the concept. Just I can take only so much blind ignorance from a main character before the book loses me.

    And you’ve read all three? Nice, I’ve only gotten a chance to read the first one.

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    1. I got lucky and found them one after another in a few different used bookstores… eep, too many years ago now. The second and third aren’t quite up to the level of sheer interconnected supernatural Awesome as the first, but they are still very good.

      …Huh. Amazon has the whole trilogy on Kindle!

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  2. Will Sousuke Sagara kill a fellow student?

    Will Hibiki beat the crap out of someone for making them lost?

    Will Taylor Hebert join a dubious organization extremely likely to get her killed?

    Will the emo lensmen put Dick Seaton in charge of optimizing an abomination of science that runs on traumatized motherless orphans?

    Will Goku leave a weak enemy alive to get stronger solely because he wants a better fight?

    Find out in our next exciting episode of Idiot Ball Z.

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