The Geomancer’s Apprentice, by Yin Leong [review]

A captivating tale of horror, ghosts, and Chinese mysticism

This beautifully-written story of ghosts, supernatural monsters, and Chinese mysticism drew me in from the beginning because of Junie, the engaging heroine. Junie is searching to find her identity. She lacks self-confidence, is socially awkward, and has not made her parents proud – yet. She is surprised to discover that her family is related to Joe Tham, a Geomancer, who scrounges out a living as a Feng Shui master. Joe performs “blessings” on homes and businesses, and assists his mostly Chinese clients in balancing the flow of energy in their homes. Junie’s mother convinces Joe to hire Junie as his apprentice – just so she has a job. The whole Feng Shui thing seems like mumbo-jumbo superstition until actual spirits and malevolent monsters start rising up from an energy vortex in the cellar of a Washington D.C. home where Joe and Junie go to improve the house’s negative energy flow.

Although Joe is the son of a Feng Shui master known as the Golden Dragon, he lacks any knack for the real magic behind the rituals and is something of a dud in his own family. Junie, however, discovers that she has the innate ability to wield the Geomancer’s energy sword and activate the mystical compass that charts energy flow. Junie is the heir apparent to be the next Dragon. But she needs training and experience. Unfortunately for her and Joe, her training will be on-the-job as there are monsters that need immediate extermination or else a house full of people may die – including Junie’s parents.

The set-up here is terrific, and the action sequences are gripping as Junie and Joe bravely set out on their quest to stem the flow of monsters through the vortex portal before the worst of the worst can come through into our realm. As a horror/ghost/adventure story, it’s great reading. There is a side story involving a budding romance for Junie that never gets off the ground and a side story about Junie’s family relationships that is part of her personality, but doesn’t go anywhere either. There is also a peripheral story involving the owner of the house and the tragic death of her four-year-old son years earlier. This substory carries on after the end of the main climax for several additional chapters and doesn’t need to be there. It doesn’t advance the main story or Junie’s character and leaves the ending of the book with an anticlimactic feel. Despite these blemishes on Ms. Leong’s first novel, the main story and the main action are captivating and well worth the read.

The writing is clean and well-crafted. Ms. Leong, a journalist, knows how to structure paragraphs and a story line. With almost no copy editing issues, the reader can focus on the story and the characters, which are lovingly created and nurtured. There is plenty of room for additional installments of Junie and Joe’s adventures, including their inevitable confrontation (when Junie is more experienced and learns to hang onto her magic sword) with the dreaded Mogui. This first book is a terrific introduction to some exceptional characters and a very interesting universe that certainly has much more to give. Totally recommended for any fans of urban horror or supernatural adventure stories. (Note, although the language is PG-rated, the scenes of peril and monsters are likely not suitable for smaller children. Although Junie is an early-twenties heroine and this may be seen as YA material, be careful about giving younger children nightmares.) Rating is 4.5 stars out of 5.

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