Black Water Sister – Zen Cho

Black Water Sister is the first book I read by Malaysian author Zen Cho. Although I don’t usually read fantasy books, I couldn’t help but read this book set in Malaysia. The story of Jess, the ghost of her grandmother and her getting into trouble with the local gods gave me a fantastic escape from reality, and I learned a lot about Malaysia. It really makes me very happy to learn about the culture of a country thanks to the novels.


Black Water Sister tells the story of Jessamyn Teoh. After many years, Jess returned from America to her native country Malaysia with her family. Her mind is occupied by finding a job, organizing her life and help her family. Jess, who is a Harvard graduate, finds herself among the interrogations of her vast family and in a bit of culture shock on her return from America to Malaysia. But when she starts to hear strange voices, she thinks she’s about to go crazy with the stress. But the voice she heard claims to be her recently lost grandmother, Ah Ma.

Black Water Sister - Zen Cho

Ah Ma was the spirit medium of a highly mysterious god named Black Water Sister. And unfortunately, Jess doesn’t know much about Ah Ma, as her mother and Ah Ma weren’t close. However, as far as she understands, Ah Ma has things to solve in this world of the living, and she chose Jess as her medium. Trying to put her life in order, Jess suddenly finds herself among spirits and gods of all kinds. While trying to hide her relationship with her girlfriend from her family and protect her mental health, Jess, unaware of what will happen to her, complies with her fate and begins to help Ah Ma. Meanwhile, she will rediscover both her family and herself.

Black Water Sister tells an entertaining story about family secrets, the difficulties brought about by generational differences, the diversity of beliefs and cultures, the impact of the family on the way people become an individual, violence against women and many more. If you want to escape reality and learn something about Malaysia in the meantime, I recommend it. Enjoy!

Black Water Sister - Zen Cho

Black Water Sister

‘A sharp and bittersweet story of past and future, ghosts and gods and family, that kept me turning pages into the dark hours of the night’ – Naomi Novik, author of Uprooted

This mischievous Malaysian-set novel is an adventure featuring family, ghosts and local gods – from Hugo Award-winning novelist Zen Cho.

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.

Zen Cho

Zen Cho was born and raised in Malaysia, and lives in the UK. She is the author of the Sorcerer to the Crown historical fantasy novels, the Lambda Award-nominated novella The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water and a short story collection, Spirits Abroad. Her newest novel is Black Water Sister, a contemporary fantasy set in Malaysia.

Black Water Sister - Zen Cho 1

Zen’s short fiction has been awarded a Hugo, honour-listed for the Carl Brandon Society Awards, and translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Finnish, Chinese and Japanese. She was a finalist for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, joint winner of the Crawford Award for Spirits Abroad, and winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer for Sorcerer to the CrownSorcerer to the Crown was also a nominee for various other awards, including the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and featured on multiple “Best Books of 2015” lists.

Zen edited the short story anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia, a finalist for the Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards. She has been a juror for the Speculative Literature Foundation Diverse Writers and Diverse Worlds grants and a SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) mentor for emerging writers, as well as serving on the Board of the non-profit Con or Bust. She co-organised UK convention Nine Worlds Geekfest’s first Race & Culture programming track. She has spoken about genre and social justice on BBC Radio, Minnesota Public Radio News and Al Jazeera’s online daily TV show The Stream.

When she isn’t writing, Zen works as a lawyer. She enjoys cooking and baking, reading, gossip and travel.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Read Around the World

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.