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The Daoshi Chronicles #1

The Girl with Ghost Eyes

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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.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published November 3, 2015

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About the author

M.H. Boroson

3 books283 followers
When M.H. Boroson was nine years old, a Chinese American friend invited him to dinner with his family. Over a big, raucous meal, his friend's uncle told a story about a beautiful fox woman. She had a magic pearl and she stole men's energy.

Boroson wanted to learn more about this fox woman, so he went to the library. They had Greek, Norse, and Arthurian mythology. They had vampires, witches, werewolves, and fairies, but they didn't have anything like the story his friend's uncle told -- not even an encyclopedia entry.

This baffled him. A number of his friends were Asian American; why weren't their families' stories in the books? He asked his friend's uncle to tell him more stories. He started asking other kids if he could interview their families. If they said yes, he'd go to their houses, bringing a notebook.

In college, he studied Mandarin and Religion (with a focus on Chinese Buddhism). He lived near a video store that had a large selection of Hong Kong cinema; he rented Shaw Brothers movies, as well as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and John Woo films. He loved BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER too; it was fun genre fluff on the surface, but it also had deeper meanings.

One day he realized he could combine everything he loved: Chinese ghost lore, Buffy, kung fu movies, fantasy novels, history. He could write stories about Chinese magic and monsters, using these incredible cultural details as metaphors to dramatize the experiences of immigrants in America.

Stories told from inside the culture, centered on people whose lives had been treated as marginal. Stories inverting the margins, subverting stereotypes. Chinese American characters portrayed as three-dimensional, diverse human beings -- facing challenges, earning a living, supporting families, struggling to hold on to traditional values in a new country. Exciting, action-packed stories that base their fantasy imagery in Chinese folklore, but tackle issues of vital importance in today's world, like race, class, gender, culture, and power.

He started taking notes. He bought hand-written Daoist manuscripts. He interviewed Chinese and Chinese American people again. He took detailed notes from Chinese stories, like Pu Songling's Tales from the Liaozhai, and ancient texts like the Shan Hai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Seas) and Journey to the West. He watched movies like MR. VAMPIRE and A CHINESE GHOST STORY. He took sixty thousand pages of notes.

From Iris Chang, he learned to write about history from a place of compassion. Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins stories taught him how an investigation can paint a vivid picture of an ethnic enclave at a specific historical moment. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files showed him how to create big fun supernatural adventures. Tony Hillerman's Navajo mysteries gave him a way to write about a culture that isn't his own, trying to honor the people he's writing about.

THE GIRL WITH GHOST EYES is his first novel. It received a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly, won first prize in the Colorado Gold and Crested Butte Writers writing contests, was nominated as one of the ten best books of the month at LibraryReads, and was listed as one of Bustle.com's best diverse fantasy novels.

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5 stars
1,220 (29%)
4 stars
1,601 (38%)
3 stars
981 (23%)
2 stars
271 (6%)
1 star
88 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 732 reviews
Profile Image for C.T. Stern.
1 review
March 11, 2016

The Girl with Ghost Eyes is such a cool novel! It invents a whole new genre, a blend of kung fu, Daoist magic, crazy monsters, tong wars, immigrant narrative, female empowerment, spiritual journey, and social realism.

I googled to see what things look like.

19th-c Chinatown:

Yellow paper talismans:

Peachwood sword:


Profile Image for carol..
1,513 reviews7,698 followers
October 20, 2020
An above average first book, with lots to like for urban fantasy fans and people who enjoy time period fantasies. It reminds me of Maxine Hong Kingston crossed with Snake Agent.

A young widowed woman, Xian Li-lin, with ‘ghost eyes,’ is living in 1898 in San Francisco with her emotionally distant father. They are priest and priestess in the Maoshan tradition: “we are ghost hunters, spirit mediums, and exorcists. When creatures out of nightmare trouble Chinatown, people come to the Maoshan for protection. With paper talismans we drive away the spirits, with magic gourds we imprison them, with peachwood swords we destroy them. People fear those who live at the border of the spirit world. They say a haunt of death taints us.” One day, the best friend of her husband comes with an unknown man to the Hall of Ancestors, asking for a favor for a drowned friend trapped in the spirit world. A twitch of independence and sympathy lead her into acting on her own, which leads to trouble.

From there the plot thickens. First Lin-lin has to cope with the spirit world, and then discover who wants to harm her father and why, which leads to further complications. I thought it satisfactory, if perhaps excessively convoluted for a villain, and enjoyed the twist that these particular protagonists bring to what seems to be a standard power play. However, the climactic conflict is ridiculously protracted, one of those Hollywood superhero fights where I’m thinking, ‘die, already, please, so we can move to the next thing.’ Had I been the editor, I would have drastically trimmed it and replaced the word count with more detail in a couple of intriguing waypoints that could have used more attention.

For all that, it was an fast, absorbing read that I didn’t want to put down. There’s a wide variety of characters and events that continuously piqued my interest. A Night Parade; conflict between the Chinese tongs; questions of assimilation; a scary monk; Mao’er, a questionable cat-spirit; the spirit of an eyeball, Mr. Yanqui; and overall, just a more unusual take on the fantasy/mythic fiction genre. Yet despite the characters and action, I felt like Lin-lin has to do some growing through the story, and does come to several spots where she pushes herself as well as opens herself up to new possibilities. I appreciated the growth within the confines of the time period and culture.

Boroson has an extensive resources at the end that include insights on how they approached the material such as language, measurements, religion, etiquette, and so forth. There’s a short list of ‘Book Club Questions’ for those who want to bring a more discursive approach to their reading, as well as both recommended reading and movie lists. It’s apparent they came to this story with both personal and academic interest in Chinese culture, and I found the tone to be well done, if a touch on the kung-fu theater admiration side of the equation.

Note for Goodreaders: the blurb is poorly done. Don’t let it sway you one way or another.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,155 reviews2,007 followers
June 25, 2016
If you like historical fiction and you enjoy a good, well written fantasy then this is definitely the book for you. Set in Chinatown, San Francisco in 1898, the story shows much of the way of life of Chinese immigrants at that time as they struggled to maintain their cultural beliefs and customs and yet still adapt to their new home.
That's the historical fiction aspect and it is very well done. As for fantasy, the author uses for his main character a very strong, feisty Chinese girl. Li-Lin is the daughter of a traditional exorcist and is able to see spirits and demons. She also practices Chinese magic and martial arts and is the epitome of a kick ass heroine!
The result is an action packed story based in Chinese mythology and set within the customs and traditions of the period. It is well written, the characterisation is good and wow would it make a good movie!
Well worth a read!
June 25, 2017
And to think I almost missed this one. Normally Book Bub is a hit or miss (they're terrible when it comes to offering more diverse reads and I know for a fact that there are a LOT of great books with lead characters of color just waiting for a chance to be discovered), but somehow this ended up as an offering and I'm so glad I grabbed it. Needless to say, this would make a killer Netflix series. Strong Asian heroine, a sense of the lives of Chinese immigrants in turn of the century San Francisco, ghosts, demons, the Tong - it's all here and very well crafted. Too bad I breezed through this, but it was that awesome. Li-lin was the kind of kick ass heroine who could take it as well as dish it out. And I loved the San Francisco setting. Even though it was set in the past, I recognized many of the streets and places named in the book. And the new cover with the Chinese girl is awesome!
Profile Image for Alexxy.
378 reviews59 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
February 14, 2016
DNF at 23%

No one really likes slow-paced stories. But with this one, everything happened so fast that at the end of the first chapter I was like

The second chapter

The third chapter

You see where I'm going with this?

I'm sure a lot of people will enjoy such pace but me no. From the start I need at least a little background story, some set up, maybe even a little filler to understand the character, so I can care for him/her. but in this case, all sorts of shit were happening to Li-lin and I was all

I also didn't really like the world of the story. Don't get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with it. It's just that in my *cough* mind palace *cough* I give each world a feeling, a sensation. Li-lin's world was dark and gloomy in a way that didn't really interest me. Add that to a character that I don't care about and voilà! we got ourselves a DNF.

Although I was really curious to read about Chinese folklore and culture. Basing on the blurb and the reviews, the book is really rich regarding everything. Apparently everyone has enjoyed this story. So, I do think you should read this book. Chances of disliking this story are lower than 5%. I was just unlucky enough to fall in the category. That's why I'm not going to rate the book. It's one of those cases where it's not the book, it's just me.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
1,568 reviews75 followers
July 15, 2019
Brilliantly written, endlessly fascinating story about Japanese-American people who deal with the spirit world on a daily basis. Adorable characters (Yes, especially the eye!), and a well written plot, drive this novel straight through to the end. I adored every second of it, and I hated for it to end. I cheered for the good guys, and reveled in the endlessly wondrous worlds they traveled. Definitely highly recommended...!!

5 stars, and please read this soon!

3 years later and this is still brilliant! Emily Woo Zeller is the narrator of the audiobook, and she is brilliant also. The author’s note is also incredibly informative.
Profile Image for Linda Robinson.
Author 4 books133 followers
December 20, 2015
"My name is Xian Li-lin...and I am a Maoshan Nu Daoshi of the Second Ordination." Li-lin is also a grieving widow, a devoted and obedient daughter. She has yin eyes. She can see ghosts and must hide her ability in order to continue being an obedient daughter. No nasty magic allowed. Although the Maoshan tradition is keeping malevolent spirits away, actually seeing ghosts is unacceptable, so Li-lin is trapped straightaway in an impossible situation, set in an insoluble conflict with unfathomable tong disloyalty, all while her heart is still freshly broken. Rock, hard place. Cliff. Li-lin is a reluctant heroine, set on a journey by forces beyond her ken with few allies, trickster acquaintances and evil sorcerers. Classic. Boroson is a superb writer, this is his first novel and I hope he sells the screen rights for a tidy sum. Imagine Big Trouble in Little China with a female hero, minus the cultish cutes. Meanwhile I hope he's writing another Li-lin book right now.
Profile Image for Kristen.
167 reviews77 followers
February 26, 2018
2.5/5 stars
The things I liked:
*The cultural/folktale aspects of the book.

*Mr. Yanqiu – because he is a rad little eyeball.

*The spirits. Especially Mr. Yanqiu and the cat.

*Bok Choy- because he is an unpredictable character.

Not so much:
*The monotony of the story. After a while the story fell into a boring rhythm of fight, look for solutions, fail in obtaining/getting solutions, fight some more. At first this was exciting, but by the end I was eagerly waiting for the story to wrap-up.

*Certain aspects of the story seemed too drawn out, and even unnecessary. The book wasn’t that long, but I still felt like it could have been trimmed in some areas.

*The repeated reference to the main character's sword as a peach wood sword. After the 50 millionth time of saying peach wood sword, I think I know that HER SWORD IS PEACH WOOD.

This book wasn’t bad by any means, and the cultural aspects were pretty interesting. That being said, I kept finding myself zoning out and missing some of the narration (I listened to the audio). Even though this happened on several occasions, I was still able to pick up what was happening in the story because: a) What I missed wasn’t that important b) It was a part of the story that was very similar to another part of the story. I feel like this COULD have been a lot better if it were shorter, and not as cyclical in nature.
Profile Image for Karla.
15 reviews2 followers
September 26, 2015
Excellent, action packed read. Strong female character.
Profile Image for Serena W. Sorrell.
301 reviews75 followers
March 29, 2017

I just loved this book.

It was so well-researched and embedded with culture from many sources. So, first of all, hats off to the amazing work that must have gone into crafting such a well put together story while respecting the culture whence it came.

The story's gist, while not revolutionary, brought a few new twists and kicks to the "character can see human world and spirit world" that I'm used to, which was greatly appreciated. The characters themselves were wonderful. So fully-formed and flawed, but real and representative of the culture and time period. Although I admit Mao'er and Shuai Hu were my favorites Xian did not fail to deliver an amazing heroine who was soft and hard all at once.

My one dislike was the overall pacing of the story and especially the climax. At times it felt just a wee bit dragged out with cultural details to prove the author knew what he was saying via the characters, or that the resolution to a scene was just a few beats late in the grand rhythm of it all. Still, not enough for me to give GwGE anything less than a full 5 stars.
Profile Image for Sierra Chandler.
52 reviews
January 30, 2016
Characters like Li Lin do not come around every day, and rarely are they part of a non-anglo culture. She is an exceptional protagonist in a novel full of interesting and exciting characters. As much as I like her as a character, I like that the author gave her plenty of opportunities to fail. This is not a story where things go smoothly and plans are carried out with ease. And so we see our protagonist fail when we expect a victory, and succeed when we thought all hope was lost. I recommend this book to young adults and adults alike. I cannot wait for the next one.
Profile Image for LibraryReads.
339 reviews320 followers
January 6, 2016
“In San Francisco during the late 1800s, a young Chinese widow tries to keep her father alive, and win a place in his heart she doesn’t realize she already owns. This story is filled with wonderful detail from Chinese folklore and mythology, and plenty of action as two tongs battle to control Chinatown. The very best fantasy employs strong characters who are real people with real problems. I enjoyed every page.”

Janet Martin, Southern Pines Public Library, Southern Pines, NC
Profile Image for Emma.
2,392 reviews821 followers
October 25, 2019
October 2019 re read.
Finally! The second book has arrived and so time for a reread of this first. The main character is brilliant! She is a woman in The Chinese community of San Francisco during the gold rush. She has kick-ass Kung fu skills and can see spirits but, as a woman has virtually no rights or worth of her own. She is accompanied through the story by some really fun spirit characters. Fabulous and unique read.

April 2016
Fantastic, fast-paced, original and fun!
Profile Image for Chris Berko.
464 reviews111 followers
January 30, 2016
If John Carpenter ever made a sequel to Big Trouble in Little China and it starred Egg Shen's granddaughter AND that movie was made in novel form, this would be that novel. Great big gobs of fun are to be had upon reading this book.
Profile Image for K.T. Katzmann.
Author 4 books96 followers
March 21, 2016
You don't see many kung-fu wizard mediums with feelings of inadequacy, y'know?

Xian Li-lin is a Taoist priestess in 19th century San Fransisco, and the world constantly reminds her that she sucks. She may save her father from assassins, but he upbraids her for interrupting him. Xian can see spirits, but that's really embarrassing for a family, so she pretends it went away. She meets awesome nonhuman allies, but her father scolds her, reinforcing that a Taoist can't hang with anything awesome and non-Taoist.

Oh, and an evil wizard and a tong leader just might be planning some David Lo Pan level shit she has to stop.

Lo Pan Style.

Now, Xian has to overcome demon assassin monsters, her father's shame, evil sorcerers, her father's unrealistic gender role opinions, talking snake arms, her father's harsh expectations on proper female behavior, tong gangsters, and . . .

Well, the final showdown is so goddamn crazy, I don't want to ruin it.

Also, there's a Thousand Demon Night Parade. A Thousand Demon Night Parade . Our heroine has to continually seek help from the spirits of Chinatown, and the spirit world feature a parade of . . . well, everything. My favorite Centipede-whose-head-is-a-duck-egg-with-a-face-drawn-on-it. Because of Matt Alt's awesome Yokai Attack, I recognized a few.

I would read a 200 page book of the Thousand Demon Night Parade chapter.

The characters and setting really grew on me (there's a Chinese gangster named Bok Choy). Really, first class, well-researched world-building, and some of the most memorably supporting characters I've read in years. I will eat a hat, any hat, if the Buddhist monk has not already been ripped off as a character in at least one role-playing group.

I will admit, there was one point in the book I nearly gave up, because I thought that life might have unleashed the Flying Pooping Ass on Xian.

Are you familiar with the Flying Pooping Ass?

I felt, halfway through the book (it's a scene involving a contract, hint, hint), that the Flying Pooping Ass had been unleashed. I almost quit. Then, carefully, I decided to trust the author. The Flying Pooping Ass would not, logically, be releashed in a heroic fantasy novel without her eventually kicking that Ass at the end of the book.

There is a lot of kicking at the end.

The book absolutely ends in a way that sets up a series, and that's grand. That's great, because you need to buy this. You need to blog and tweet and whatever else the kids are doing these days about this, because in a just universe, we would get a movie series.
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
857 reviews1,726 followers
March 27, 2016
This one started really good and but just a drag in the mid-section.

Li-Lin was requested to go to spirit world to deliver a passport as a favor to her deceased husband's friend, Tom Wong. Once in spirit world she realized that she has been betrayed and this was all a plan to trap her soul there and use her body to kill her father. But after some help she managed to get back to Chinatown. As the story progressed, the plot turns out to be war between two leading gangs of Chinatown. While Li's father is priest to one and led by Tom's father. Tom wants to defeat the other gang by using evil magic but Li's father would never allow it. So Tom turned to an evil priest and soon bad things starts to happen.

Frankly I wanted Li-Lin to be in spirit realm for a longer time but that section ended as soon as it started and I felt bereft because I really enjoyed that small section. Blurb of this book gives one idea of a full of fun and fast paced read but it didn't deliver on both aspects. Most of the time events were predictable and Li-Lin acts like a kid sometimes. Other thing that annoyed me most was the repetition of thoughts. Li-Lin's guilt, her sorrow, desperation was deeply felt but repetition of them just irritated me.

I liked Li-Lin, apart from her stupid actions, I liked her courage and respect that she has for people. She made some mistakes but was honest to face the consequences of them. She is a fearsome Kung Fu warrior and use it effectively.

I haven't read many books based in China, and I loved the Chinese mythology in this. All the rituals, myths, magic and demons are really good in this. Though Li-Lin was likable but I loved the side characters (but I hated how author gave so much power to Li's father yet he didn't do much). & oh they all were mostly ghosts or spiritual creatures. They just won my heart.

Writing lack depth and not smooth. A light read and as its the first installment, I really hope author would do better in second book.
Profile Image for Jenna.
274 reviews12 followers
June 27, 2017
This might be my favorite book this year so far; I couldn't put it down! I loved the strong female MC but most of all, this definitely scratched my ever-present historical fiction itch. I mean, there are a lot of fantastic elements but the historically-sourced descriptions of Daoist rituals and such are engaging and I seem to find myself again entranced by Chinese history and culture. I love all of the descriptions of different kinds of spirits--they played out in my mind like a Spirited Away-esque parade of grotesqueries; richly described and sometimes frightening. With all of the romance sprinkled into my fantasy and urban fantasy book choices lately, it was nice to have a more Katniss-esque BAMF MC who just ain't got time for that shit, ya know?

Anyway, highly recommend!!
Profile Image for Lisa.
490 reviews54 followers
February 22, 2016
This was a four and a half/five star read for me. It contains a lot of things I enjoy: a well written female protagonist, history, folklore, kung-fu. There was plenty of action to keep the pace up and I liked that the characters were well rounded. (Even the main big bad in this, well we are given some motivation for their actions--they could have very easily fallen into the mustache twirling type of villain, but I feel like that was narrowly avoided, yay). Really looking forward to reading more from this author.
Profile Image for Eric.
865 reviews74 followers
January 26, 2016
I really enjoyed this mystical tale of a Daoist exorcist's daughter in late 1800s San Francisco. There were a lot of fantastical elements, but the story interwove them well, so it never felt unbelievable.

There were many interesting characters, including protagonist Li-lin, with the gift/curse of ghost eyes, and many of the supporting cast. Her relationship with her father was particularly interesting, as was her relationship with his severed eyeball, which became the spirit known as Mr. Yanqiu. Other supporting characters, such as the cat spirit Mao'er, antagonist businessman Bok Choy, and the mysterious Buddhist monk who is actually a tiger, helped to flesh out the tale.

I was a bit worried the story would stay in the spirit world once Li-lin ventured there in the first chapter, but fortunately that journey was short lived. While I did enjoy the spirit world, which reminded me of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, it was an effect best used in small doses.

All in all, I'd strongly recommend this to anyone that likes fantasy stories that are influenced by different cultures and traditions other than the typical Western European J.R.R. Tolkien archetypes.
657 reviews2 followers
February 17, 2016
I loved this one. Li-Lin can see demons and otherworldly creatures. Her father thought he cured her of this dread condition, but she lied to make him feel better. When an evil man traps her spirit outside of her body, hoping to find a demon to inhabit it and kill her father, she foils the trap but things go downhill from there. The world building was stellar and the character development was so detailed it felt like these people lived next door although their alternate history Chinatown world is pretty dangerous and totally cool. This is M.H. Boroson's first book but I look forward to many more from him - total bummer that there was no photo of him in the back of the book. it says he loved Buffy the Vampire slayer and kungfu movies and this is a perfect blending of the two.
25 reviews
February 13, 2016
wonderfully done and paced, managed to illuminate quite few concepts that usually would take several wiki pages to explain. loved the historical aspect and also how chauvinism pervaded but also how the wild west managed to start to change much of that .
577 reviews24 followers
March 4, 2016
The Girl with Ghost Eyes was such a great read that I simply have to start this review by saying go and give it a whirl.

The story is set in the late 1800s in San Francisco’s Chinatown and brings to us a compelling story with a wonderful protagonist. Li Lin is a Daoist priestess, daughter to a powerful exorcist who protects the neighbourhood from harmful spirits. Unfortunately Li Lin’s father has enemies who will go to great lengths to harm him and increase their own power and would use Li Lin to try and gain advantage. At the start of the story Li Lin is betrayed by a friend and tricked into a situation that places both her and her father at great risk and sets her on a course to seek the truth and prevent further damage.

How best to start this review. Well, firstly this story is packed with imagination. There are all sorts of spirits and monsters that frankly are great to read about. On top of this the author manages to evoke the period and open your eyes to the wealth of superstitions, folklore and myth that surrounded the people of the era. And, on top of that, I just feel like the author does an excellent job of bringing to us a likable protagonist who you can really feel for and get behind, especially given the restrictions of the era not only for a young woman but a young woman dealing with the loss of a husband and the shame of having yin eyes (the ability to see spirits). Li Lin struggles with her own self belief and also constantly strives to gain the affection of her strict father. In that respect this almost has a coming of age feel as we follow Li Lin on her journey and watch her develop not only her powers but her confidence in her own abilities. As the story gathers we learn more of Li Lin and her family circumstances which help to give her a very rounded feel although there are no info dumps, just steady development.

There is plenty of action and the story has almost a Ghibli feel to it. Fantastic monsters coupled with kung fu and Chinese gangsters plus fast pacing that have you jumping from one incredible dilemma to the next.

I don’t know how true to the period this is or how correct the terminology but it certainly reads well and feels as though the author has researched this well. It sort of put me a little in mind of the Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo although this story I felt had more action and more detail in terms of the spirit world.

In terms of criticisms. I didn’t really have anything to be honest. There was the odd occasion where the dialogue felt a little forced and i had the odd occasion of frustration with some of the limitations that Li Lin faced but frankly, given the era, it would have been unrealistic if Li Lin didn’t face such barriers.

To conclude, I really enjoyed this. It’s a fast paced and wonderfully fantastic tale with monsters and spirits, a great main character, evil baddies and friends where you least expect them with an excellent and dramatic ending. Although I’m trying desperately to avoid spoilers I simply have to mention Mr Yanqiu – he’s one of the best sidekicks I can ever remember reading about.

I have no hesitation in recommending. If you enjoy fantasy, myth, folklore, incredible monsters, spirits, excitement and kung fu then what you waiting for! Go and grab a copy and prepare to be thoroughly entertained.

I received a copy of this courtesy of the publishers. The above is my own opinion.
Profile Image for louisa.
326 reviews9 followers
October 19, 2015
Sabriel meets High Noon in 1898 Chinatown. With kung fu! And a rag tag team! And the five point death touch! I spent much of the book imagining a Studio Ghibli adaptation. If the Taoist spirits are merciful, this will be a continuing series.
Profile Image for Tess Burton.
Author 1 book88 followers
December 21, 2015
"Maoshan isn't like other traditions. We are ghost hunters, spirit mediums, and exorcists. When creatures out of nightmare trouble Chinatown, people come to the Maoshan for protection. With paper talismans we drive away the spirits, with magic gourds we imprison them, with peachwood swords we destroy them. People fear those who live at the border of the spirit world. They say a hold of death taints us. They might be right."
This book was everything I didn't know I wanted; a proper little gem picked up on a whim just because the literary Gods smiled upon me one evening. I did not expect to get so into it, but when your protagonist is a martial arts expert with astral projection abilities who can see into the depths of the supernatural underworld of 19th century Chinatown in San Francisco...I don't believe it's possible to go wrong.

Xian Li-Lin is a Daoshi priestess; it is her job to exorcise spirits from the streets of Chinatown. She has strong martial arts skills and is gifted with her peachwood sword, she writes spells and burns paper talismans and all around rocks as a protagonist. But she is also cursed with yin-eyes: the ability to see supernatural beings even when she isn't in the spirit world, and for some reason this brings shame upon her family. 

It's a damn pity too because Li-Lin is pretty badass. Okay she gets conned into entering the spirit work to help a malevolent ghost in the first chapter, but she bloody well sorts herself out. Narrowly avoiding possession, she makes good use of her magic and martial arts skills, navigating her way through the spirit world on the run from her ghostly pursuer. All the while planning revenge on those who tricked her.
"First I needed to defeat Shi Jin and recover the red string. Once I'd done that, I'd return to my body, find Mr. Liu, and make him pay. He had cut my skin. It was a violation, and he was going to suffer for it."
The world-building in this book was out of this world - quite literally. I think it was the best part and I found it so incredibly inspiring. Based on Chinese folklore, it features a whole bunch of spooky and weird spirits, which are incredibly cool to read about. Li-Lin's magic and religion is based on Taoism and it was ever so cool to read about the practices.
"Mr. Liu was a man of power. He'd broken the spell on my peachwood sword. I could haunt him from the spirit world – move objects around, possess people – but he was a Daoshi, of the third ordination or higher. If I approached him in spirit form, he could drive me away with an octagonal mirror, trap me in a bottleneck gourd, or burn a paper talisman and incinerate me."
I was sucked up into the world, pretty much just wishing for an encyclopaedia just about this fictional world that I could devour much as I devoured the novel. But of course there was a plot to read about, too. And though it paled in comparison to the world building, it wasn't half bad. It focused on Li-Lin's status as a young immigrant widow with yin-eyes, her relationships with her father and the spirits she encounters, her desire to seek revenge on the con artist that violated her, and hopefully bring a bit of honour to her family. I liked the highly personal aspects of the plot. In the end it got a bit "save-the-world"-y, which I liked less, but I had to admit it was a fitting ending.

Plot-wise I think I had more interest in Li-Lin's complex relationship with her father. Though he risked and sacrificed an awful lot for her, Li-Lin often feels like there is no love from her father, and he only sees her as an instrument to further his reputation, or at least keep it intact. Li-Lin's dad is one of the biggest mysteries in her life, but she begins to learn more about him (despite his best efforts). Why has he risked so much for her if he didn't love her? But why won't he show ay affection towards her, or talk to her about anything other than her priestess duties or martial arts?


I did love the father sub-plot. The story they share is bittersweet but it was genuinely heartwarming, and just another layer of awesome storytelling in a novel that already pretty much has it all.

The Girl with Ghost Eyes really is expertly written. It's a very different kind of urban fantasy, such unique and real folklore makes it a fascinating read. Even the way the dialogue is written makes it feel like you're reading a the subtitles in a martial arts film, really adding to the Chinatown atmosphere that gets created in your mind. It's got characters I cared about, with interesting journeys and depths to their personalities. The plot was fast-paced and unpredictable, the magic was new and special, the entire thing was an absolute pleasure to read. It inspired me. It got me looking up Chinese folklore and spiritual beliefs. It got me writing down an interesting turn of phrase or two, and it has definitely made me keep an eye out for any future books from M.H. Boroson.
Profile Image for Elliot.
580 reviews36 followers
December 20, 2017
Maybe it's just me? This is one of those times where I look at the reviews after I've read a book and feel like I read something very different from everyone else. I'll try to pin down my feelings as succinctly as possible.

On the plus side this book is full of accurately portrayed mythology (Daoist & Buddhist) and culture (Chinese & Chinese American) that is going to be new to a lot of people. It's great to see this being represented so well in an urban fantasy. On the flip side of that, this book had that feeling over-researched books can get where it's stuffed to the gills with every morsel of knowledge the author could possibly cram in, and then some. You could tell there were details and scenes that Boroson couldn't bare to part with, and the novel was written around them. To put it another way: it felt like the core of the book was the information the author wanted to share and the story was sort of a loose vehicle to convey it, rather than the story being the core with the details working to enrich it.

I think part of the problem stems from the 1st person perspective. Li-Lin essentially spends the story explaining her culture and motivations to...herself? It would be weird if I wrote a 1st person narrative about my life, and as I walked down the street I had a long interior monologue when I see a Starbucks about what coffee means culturally here in America. It's no less weird to me when Li-lin does this almost every other page. She also repeats herself. A lot. She actually has the same interior conversation almost word for word with herself numerous times. To make it even more of a turn-off for me I really didn't care for Li-Lin. I understand what the author was doing by portraying her as submissive and self-doubting, it is historically/culturally accurate for the setting, but it did not endear her to me. She has very low self-worth and I spent the book wanting her to realize she was a badass (which I would argue doesn't really happen, though others seem to disagree).

So here's the thing: I'm grouchy. I fully and openly admit this. It's been a tough year, and reading a book from the perspective of a woman who thinks she is less than all the men around her, and puts almost zero value on her own worth, is not really the narrative I'm in the mood for right now. I will also admit that I read for character first, plot second, and setting last, and in this book setting is the big draw, the plot was full of holes, and I couldn't connect to the main character. So it's no wonder my relationship with this one was doomed. It's quite possible it's just me. There's some great intro to Daoism stuff in here, as well as martial arts, and if you're curious this will give you a good taste. It's also a pretty good romp if you want some fun brain candy with a Chinese flair. As for me I'm just going to have to put this one in the Not My Thing pile and move on. (However, if they make a TV series or movie I'd love to see some of this come to life on the screen.)

Book club: 12/17
Profile Image for Lauren Stoolfire.
3,466 reviews259 followers
March 27, 2017
I've had my eyes on this for quite a while now, so I was very excited to see that Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge gave me another reason to read it. And, I'm so glad I did! I think that The Girl With Ghost Eyes is going to go down as one of my favorite reads of 2017, in fact. I found myself completely hooked and engrossed by Li-Lin's San Francisco. If you're a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Spirited Away, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I have a feeling that you will love this as well. This historical fantasy novel has something for everyone from the immigrant narrative of a young Chinese widow in San Francisco and tong wars, which, of course, are inspired by the real world to Daoist magic, demons, ghosts, spiritual journeys, exorcisms, and kung fu fight scenes - if that's not enough to draw you in right there. Plus, Li-Lin, our leading lady, is just plain awesome and she is easily a new favorite. Don't just take my word for how awesome it is, just do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. I need more Li-Lin in my life, or more historical fantasy somewhat similar to this!

Profile Image for Agnieszka.
164 reviews24 followers
August 11, 2022
Can I give it a 6 stars rating? Or 7? Can I? Please? Because, really, anything less than 10 would not do "The Girl with Ghost Eyes" justice. It's an amazing, wonderful, brilliant and up-lifting story with breathtaking imagery reminiscent of Ghibli movies (most specifically "Spirited Away"), immersed in a culture that is, to me, foreign, exotic, and at the same time strangely familiar, and told through the eyes of such an iron-willed young woman, so unyielding and undefeated despite every and any kind of obstacle possible, that she is a credit to all female protagonists from all of the world. I can hardly express how I loved Li-lin's determination and spirit.

What I also loved is how the book put me right in the middle of the plot and forced me to get to know the heroine and her world step by step; I was so enchanted by everything I read about - the ghosts, the spirit world, the spells, the rituals - that I didn't even notice when I started to cheer for Li-lin with my whole heart. I love when books move me this way, and "The Girl with Ghost Eyes" moved me with every page I read. I can't believe what a wonderful experience that was, so please, please, please, read it, and be enchanted and fall in love the way I did.
5 reviews
February 6, 2016
It's hard to find good western fantasy that's based on Chinese mythology and religion. Wuxia (martial hero) tales seem popular in film, so it surprises me a little bit. I love reading Chinese fiction because the morals of the hero's can be vastly different then what you might find in western fantasy. Not to say that one is better then the other, it's just very interesting. To top it off this book features a female protagonist which adds another layer of contrast. The author does a great job with his characters in general, all of them having different motivations that drive them and none being exactly good or evil.

My one complaint with the book is that the protagonists father seemed to be used as a plot device a little bit. We are told he is one of the most powerful men in Chinatown, but he spends the entire book getting beaten up. Something had to happen to him to allow Li-lin to take the spotlight, but I think the author went a little overboard in predominantly showing her fathers weakness and only telling you of his strength.

Criticism aside, the book is really good. Well paced, awesome new ideas and great characters and culture. I found myself wanting to read the next book when I finished it.
Profile Image for Emmy.
9 reviews4 followers
February 19, 2016
A really enjoyable read.
-The Chinese folklore and magic was really interesting and refreshing to read about.
-The protagonist was likeable
-Short and sweet

-Nothing specific, it was just missing that little something that would make it 5 stars

Final Thoughts:
I hope there is a sequel as I'd love to delve back into this world and I'm definitely going to search for some similar books.
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