The Girl with No Face: The Daoshi Chronicles, Book Twoby Published 1 Oct 2019
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The adventures of Li-lin, a Daoist priestess with the unique ability to see the spirit world, continue in the thrilling follow-up to the critically-acclaimed historical urban fantasy The Girl with Ghost Eyes.
It’s the end of the Nineteenth Century. San Francisco’s cobblestone streets are haunted, but Chinatown has an unlikely protector in a young Daoist priestess named Li-lin. Using only her martial arts training, spiritual magic, a sword made from peachwood, and the walking, talking spirit of a human eye, Li-lin stands alone to defend her immigrant community from supernatural threats.
Now Li-lin has gotten her hands on an amulet that makes its bearer bulletproof. But there’s a problem: the amulet is powered by a child’s soul. To save the spirit, Li-lin will have to voyage to Fengdu, the City of the Dead, but first she must protect the amulet from the gangsters who want it for themselves, her own father, a renowned Daoist exorcist who wants to destroy it, and the Ghostkeeper who created the amulet by murdering his own son.
With hard historical realism and meticulously researched depictions of Chinese monsters and magic that have never been written about in the English language, The Girl with No Face draws from the action-packed cinema of Hong Kong to create a compelling and unforgettable tale of historical fantasy and Chinese lore.
"The Girl with No Face: The Daoshi Chronicles, Book Two" Reviews
I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A love spell is not a bouquet of flowers but a boot in your face, grinding its muddy heel.
The nitty-gritty: A worthy follow-up to The Girl With Ghost Eyes , Boroson’s latest shines with magical imagery, sparkling and downright funny dialog, complex characters and an immensely satisfying plot, all framed by the rich history of Chinese immigrants in 1899 San Francisco. This story was a delight from start to finish.
This is probably the best fantasy series that no one is reading, and it breaks my heart to write those words. As a book blogger, I feel it’s my responsibility to help boost amazing books, and I’ll go to the ends of the earth to push this series on anyone I meet. True, Boroson is taking his sweet time between books (although I have no knowledge of the “behind the scenes” events involved in writing and publishing this second book in the series). The Girl With Ghost Eyes came out four long years ago, and I’ll admit I had forgotten some of the events that happened. But the minute I picked this up and started reading, I was transported back to Li-Lin’s magical world and the fascinating historical setting of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 1800s.
Li-Lin Xian is a Daoist priestess, skilled in both Kung Fu and the magical art of seeing into the spirit world. Trained by her father, a Daoist priest of the highest order, Li-Lin protects both the living and the dead, performing rituals to make sure the spirits of these dead get to the right places. One day, the body of a young girl named Anjing is brought to the deadhouse where Li-Lin works, which in itself isn’t unusual. But the circumstances of her death are. Flowers are growing out of the girl’s mouth, flowers that choked her to death. When Li-Lin tries to locate Anjing’s soul, she’s stunned to discover her soul is completely gone.
Li-Lin turns to her father for help, but their investigation only poses more mysteries. Where did this “vampire tree” come from and what does it mean? Who is the ghost girl without a face who Li-Lin finds when she’s looking for Anjing’s soul? And how are all these things connected? Li-Lin and her father, along with Li-Lin’s most trusted companions, set out on a thrilling adventure to find the truth.
There is nothing about this series that I don’t like, and so it’s hard to say which aspect was my favorite. But if pressed to choose, I’d have to say that it’s the characters that make these books so special. Li-Lin is simply a joy. She’s a young woman who has been through some pretty rough times. Her husband, the love of her life, is dead. Her murdered mother’s soul was trapped in Hell and tortured by a demon, until Li-Lin and her father managed to get her out. And Li-Lin herself has been in all kinds of trouble and danger, and working for a powerful Chinese gangster certainly doesn’t make her life any easier. But she’s a wonderfully strong girl whose strength comes from hard work. It’s believable strength, and it makes her much more likable and relatable than, say, a superhero character with unearned powers. Li-Lin’s Chinese heritage is the driving force in her life. She follows all the traditions that her father has taught her, and her love for her community is fierce. Loyalty, tradition, respect and honor. All these things are so important to her, and her relationships are shaped by them. She’s also fallible and makes lots of mistakes, and she’s self-aware enough to realize that she isn’t perfect.
In The Girl with no Face, Li-Lin and her father start off on very rocky terms. In the last book, Li-Lin ignored her father’s wishes and he ended up disowning her. Now, with the threat of the vampire tree and several other dire events, both of them understand that in order to win, they’ll need to work together. I loved seeing the progression of their relationship as her father goes from barely acknowledging her to taking her back under his wing.
Oh, there are so many wonderful characters in this story, and I just don’t have time to talk about all of them! But here are a few of my favorites: Mr. Yanqiu, the spirit of Li-Lin’s father’s eye, gouged out by him in the last book and sent into the spirit world to rescue his daughter. Now Mr. Yanqiu is Li-Lin’s steadfast friend, a little eyeball with arms and legs who travels in her pocket! Then there’s Shuai Hu, a man who can turn into a tiger and disguises himself as a Buddhist monk. And two Hell Guards, huge fighting beasts who guard the gates of Hell, one with the head of an ox, the other with the head of a horse. And finally, Mrs. Wei, a lonely woman with no children who yearns to have someone to whom she can pass on her knowledge and traditions. She and Li-Lin come to an understanding that was heartbreakingly perfect.
M.H. Boroson is, simply put, a master storyteller. His action scenes are impeccable and spaced out in such a way that the story never lags. There were two scenes in particular that have stuck with me since I finished the book and are probably two of the best scenes I’ve ever read in fiction. Without spoiling things, I’ll just mention what they were, and you will need to get the book and read them so we can gush over them together. One is a scene where Li-Lin nearly falls victim to a love spell, and the other is a hysterically funny scene at the end of the story where a monster challenges Li-Lin to a duel. In both cases, I gasped and laughed out loud, all the while wondering how Boroson could write such perfect scenes. If someone in Hollywood doesn’t snatch up the movie rights to these books, I’ll be so disappointed. This is some of the most cinematic writing you’ll ever read.
And of course, I can’t end this review without talking about the world building. Boroson mentions in his Acknowledgments that he spent ten years researching these books, and it shows. The Girl with no Face brims with elements of magical Chinese folklore, but it’s also grounded in real historical events. The author doesn’t shy away from the challenges and horrors of the immigrant experience. He includes such things as how the Chinese were used as slave labor to build the first California railroads, and the unique area in San Francisco called Chinatown, where immigrants live and flourish. But what most readers will remember are the magical moments: Li-Lin burning paper effigies of clothing to send to her husband Rocket in the spirit world; the wondrous Ghost yamen, a city built entirely of burnt paper offerings; the myriad of magical creatures that fill Li-Lin’s world; and the complicated rituals that Li-Lin and her father must go through in order to care for souls in the afterlife. Boroson’s world is endlessly fascinating, and I am actually very sad that I’ve finished this book.
But one of the best things I discovered upon finishing The Girl with no Face ? Boroson definitely isn’t finished with his story. Although this book wraps things up nicely at the end, we’re left with a couple of dangling questions that will hopefully be tackled in future installments. I WANT a story where Li-Lin and Rocket are together again, at least in some fashion. And dare I say Boroson ends this book with a suggestion that my wish might be granted?! There must be many more stories to tell about Li-Lin and her friends, and I can hardly wait to read them.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
Read my review of The Girl with Ghost EyesThis review originally appeared on Books, Bones & Buffy
Let me preface this review by first talking about how much I loved the first in the series, The Girl with Ghost Eyes. I picked up that book the day it came out and fell in love with Li-lin and the slightly fantastical version of San Francisco's historical China Town that Boroson created. I've been eagerly awaiting a sequel every since. It was so worth the wait--the follow up in amazing.
Over and above everything, Li-lin is such a wonderful character. She's strong--not just in body but in spirit as well. She's a fighter in every respect--if she has self-doubts once in a while she always rolls up her sleeves and does what needs doing, even if that may not be in her own self-interests. She can be stubborn, and relentless in the pursuit of truth and what she feels is right. Sometimes (frequently) that gets her into trouble. But it's just one of the many reasons that her character is so easy to like.
One of the things I loved most about this sequel, is really getting to spend time with Li-lin and her father and seeing their relationship change throughout the story. They have such a fascinating dynamic and while I side with Li-lin when it comes to her father (I love Li-lin too much not to), Boroson does a great job of bringing some understanding to her father's perspective. Their relationship is fraught with arguing, in part, because they're so very much alike. (This hit very close to home for me! Fathers and their daughters is always going to be an interesting topic for me.)
There are many other interesting things that Boroson touches on here, even if it's only briefly. Such as how Chinese culture is not a monolith, cultural erasure, class-ism, racism, etc. These are topics that are brought up within the context of the story and it never feels like the author is trying to hit you over the head with a message, but they're definitely messages there if you choose to see them.
So much I could say about this book--the pacing is great, the plot is a nice little mystery that expands into more, the action is amazing (that one fight scene! and that other one!), I love that 'the gang' is back together here (tiger monk, oh how I love thee), the journey to the spirit realm was SUPER fun--but mainly I just want to scream about how much I loved this book, and the first one as well. If you haven't read this series yet, I highly encourage you to check it out. 5/5 stars.
Thanks much to the publisher and Edelweiss for providing a copy for review purposes, this did not affect the content of my review in any way.
Note: ARC provided by Edelweiss. This ARC is also available in the Read Now section of NetGalley within the U.S. This book will be released on October 1, 2019.
“How could we hope to heal from the traumas of the past, when those traumas shape who we are and how we act in the present?”
A few months ago, I learned that the legendary martial artist Bruce Lee wrote an eight-page treatment for a story about Chinese immigration in the old American West. Cinemax had developed a television show based on Lee’s work called “Warrior,” about a man who emigrates from China to San Francisco in the late 19th century in search of his sister. While not historically factual, I still learned many things. Instead of the vast American riches that many of their countrymen sought, the Chinese were segregated into a small, dilapidated area, nicknamed Chinatown, where gangs and tongs fought for the control of organized crime in the city: opium dens, brothels, and illegal wares. Most of the Chinese were conscripted to slave labor conditions, barely paid enough to eat and survive. They were forced to build railroads and other city infrastructure and were easily replaced with new immigrants when they died of sickness, exhaustion, or mistreatment. The Chinese were also easy targets for the rampant racism laced throughout the populace. Stepping outside Chinatown was enough cause to be beaten or arrested, regardless if you were just walking to work or buying food. If you were a Chinese immigrant, everything was stacked against you: you were poor, you were surrounded by hate and ignorance, and there was nowhere else to go.
This is the setting for M. H. Boroson’s “The Daoshi Chronicles,” debuting in 2015 with The Girl with Ghost Eyes, and now releasing its second volume, The Girl with No Face. Although the books are serialized, one can start with The Girl with No Face and not feel lost, though I do recommend starting at the beginning. You’re going to want to spend as much time with Li-Lin as possible.
“I already know the word zhongli, the attraction between celestial bodies. The Americans had their own name for it: ‘gravity.’ That word had another meaning, because gravity is seriousness. I loved that image, object drawing closer because of how seriously they took each other. Growing up I was always the moon orbiting my father’s planet, eclipsed by him and in his shadow.”
I realize I’ve painted a grim setting so far, but this book is filled with beauty and wonder. It is a blend of historical fiction, horror fantasy, Chinese mythology, Dao religion, ancient customs, spiritual monsters, and demon-slaying sword fights that venture into the gates of Hell itself. It’s also a tender story of a widowed young woman whose gender is seen as secondary in her society, and her rare gift of seeing the spirit world complicates her relationship with her more traditionally-leaning father. Her incredible bravery and sense of moral justice are often dismissed simply because she is a woman. But her father is also her mentor, and the only family she has left in this world after her husband was killed by American constables. Although she has led a difficult life, Li-Lin acts with honor, deference, and determination. She often finds herself in dangerous situations, but she aims to be resolve them in other ways first, using violence as a last resort.
“The world is not kind to people like us. We’re women so we can’t own land; we’re Chinese so we can’t open bank accounts; we’re Chinese immigrants so we have no path to citizenship. So many doors are closed to you and me. Youth and beauty can open some doors for us, but youth and beauty do not last; we must use them well before they’re gone.”
One of the greatest of this book’s many strengths is the power and authenticity of its narrative voice. Granted, I’m not a 22-year-old female Chinese-American martial artist who guides souls to their resting places after they die… at least, I don’t think I am, so I can’t speak to its actual authenticity. Yet Boroson channels Li-Lin’s experiences in such interesting and revelatory ways that it felt like I was perceiving an entirely new approach to think and interact with the world. Li-Lin’s journey is rich and teeming with facets of the human experience that are both fascinating and utterly foreign to me. There are spiritual customs and rituals, interactions with various Dao and Buddhist spirits and demons, searches for missing souls, a multi-faceted mystery that unravels in unexpected ways… all these attributes combine with Boroson’s clever, exquisite prose makes this reading experience feel transcendent.
I recall reading The Girl with the Ghost Eyes when it was released, long before I started writing about books for fun. The unique world-building that Boroson had built has always stayed fresh in my mind; it was fascinating how one book could encapsulate what it might feel like to live during that era while also introducing incredible elements of fantasy, horror, action, spirituality, religion, deep character growth, and sheer wonder. The Girl with No Face improves upon this in every sense: the relationships grow more complex, the action scenes are more gratifying, the mysteries are fascinating, and the tragedies cut even deeper. I cannot recall a book that has taken me out of my own head and pulled me this deep into its lore. If you have any interest in any of the topics mentioned above, go grab a copy off NetGalley now, pre-order it off a retailer, or go pick up the first volume of the series.
9.2 / 10
Dang these books are so fun. I want to re-read the first one now. I'm not really into kungfu movies so I'm surprised I like these books so much (and there are a few parts that are sort of, well, bloody). I think the main character is really likeable, and I enjoy hearing about all the wacky and interesting creatures. Mr. Yanqui is the best. And the writer actually really researches Eastern mythologies and religions. Apparently climbing the ladder of swords to become a priest or priestess is a real thing.
It’s been a while since we heard from M. H. Boroson, but his debut The Girl with the Ghost Eyes made such a strong impression that I had no issues jumping back into what is now a planned trilogy. His alternate universe San Francisco is a magical place, and I was beyond excited to resume the story of Li-lin, the girl able to see the spirit realm overlaid on the mortal world.
Li-lin may be that titular girl with ghost eyes from the first book, but she only metaphorically lacks a face in this second installment. Disowned in the first book for disobeying her father, she now works as a bodyguard and spiritual protector for one of Chinatown’s gangs. She is proud of her work and skilled at it, but she has been in a holding pattern since the events of the last book.
Your face is, obviously, what you show to the world. But it’s so much more than that. It’s your dignity, your credibility, your social standing. It’s even your history. Just as you can see a parent’s features passed down on a child’s face, you can reference a complex web of relationships when mentioning “face.” Conversely, to deny someone face is to hide them, shame them. A person with no face is a person with no place in the community.
This is why, when Li-lin encounters a girl who literally has no face (just a blank span of flesh), she feels compelled to act. Li-lin knows what’s it’s like to be denied face. As a woman in a patriarchal society, as a young person, and as a Chinese person in a racist and xenophobic nation, she chafes at the limitations and does not want another girl to suffer the same.
It’s not just the faceless girl who needs her, though. She’s sworn to protect not just her gang’s boss, but his little daughter as well. And then there’s the matter of a girl who was recently killed in a way she cannot begin to understand: strangled from the inside out by a strange flowering plant. In China, masters would guide disciples and parents would guide children to the answers, all of them in their right place. But in America, everything is topsy-turvy. Girls have no faces, no lineages, and some even have no families—the deceased girl is a paper wife. How can Li-lin be faithful to her cherished traditions and also fight for those who tradition has abandoned?
“Paper” relatives refer to people who were not related (or not closely related) except on paper; which is to say, on official government documents. In order to get around (racist, fear mongering) immigration policies, immigrants would claim to be parents, children, husbands, wives, and siblings of Chinese people already living in the country.
Here’s an important piece of history you might not have learned in school: Chinese immigrants were the first to be targeted by legislation limiting immigration from a specific ethnic group and nation. Chinese women were the first to be targeted: in 1875, America forbade any and all Chinese women from immigrating to the US. Then Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 forbade any immigration from China, and banned all Chinese immigrants already in the country from ever attaining citizenship. These racist and xenophobic policies were then compounded by other injustices at the state and local level in the form of additional taxation, quarantines, and harassment.
Just in case you thought this shit was new.
But let’s leave relevant political and historical parallels aside and get back to The Girl with No Face’s other excellent traits and insights. I can see the origins of some of the action in HK and Taiwanese cinema, but Boroson has a flair of his own. At one point, Li-Lin skewers one enemy and, without pausing to remove her sword from that enemy, goes right on to stab another. It’s over the top in the best way. It’s also fun. Grimdark is all very well, but it’s nice to read something that embraces the spectacular possibilities of the format and the story.
The battle sequences combine well with the magic, too. There are big, showy magics full of danger, and also small, subtle magics full of cleverness. And, not to be outdone, there are maneuverings that are not magic at all, just sound magic theory and legal reasoning based on Daoist principles. I wholeheartedly adore a good technicality. Legal argumentation, done right, can be just as thrilling and devastating as a physical or magical fight, and I'm glad to see Boroson is continuing to excel in this area as well.
The feminist threads of the story are powerful and affecting. Boroson clearly put as much thought into reflecting on Asian American women’s issues as he did into his Daosit research, and it shows. Li-lin has some powerful conversations with her father about the imbalanced nature of their relationship, but those conversations are tempered by love and respect. I think it would have been easy for this to turn into a preachy, black-and-white series of diatribes, but instead there’s nuance and care.
One particular sequence also really impressed me with its feminist critique of a fantasy trope I hate: the love potion. It’s not actually that common anymore, thankfully, but until The Girl with No Face I hadn’t seen too many takedowns of the idea. Li-lin, though, demolishes the idea that a love potion can be anything other than a circumvention of consent and a ruinous disrespect for someone’s personhood. When she is ensnared—but not fully caught—by a love spell, she pours all her spiritual and physical power into a bid for escape, never once dismissing the threat to her autonomy.
This scene reminded me of several points in Harry Potter that involve love potions. It was deeply uncomfortable even when Romilda secretly tried to force a love potion on Harry (despite being written with a slightly humorous tone), and downright criminal when Tom Riddle’s mother enslaved his father with repeated doses. The books are already a product of their time, the pre-#MeToo era, and it’s not my goal to further castigate Rowling. Rather, I want to point out how far we’ve come that love spells have gone from plot devices and jokes to objects of horror and catalysts for discussions about consent.
The ending feels a bit unearned on a purely narrative level. Emotionally, Li-Lin’s progress and that of many other characters makes complete sense. There’s a moving realization for both Li-lin and her father, a heartfelt release of trauma, and so on. But the mechanics of her final stratagem were not sufficiently explained or foreshadowed, making the ending feel a bit like a deus ex machina.
Still, that’s more of a quibble and not a full-blown complaint. The flaws in the ending don’t detract from my overall impression of the book, which is that it’s a worthy follow-up to The Girl with the Ghost Eyes and a wonderful adventure on its own terms.