Saturday, 13 June 2015

The Astrologer's Daughter by Rebecca Lim

The Astrologer's Daughter by Rebecca Lim was not the book I expected it to be. This is partly because I intentionally try to forget blurbs for ARCs after I decide to read them and partly because I didn't really have a clear idea of what to expect anyway, and also that purple cover.

Avicenna Crowe’s mother, Joanne, is an astrologer with uncanny predictive powers and a history of being stalked. Now she is missing.
The police are called, but they’re not asking the right questions. Like why Joanne lied about her past, and what she saw in her stars that made her so afraid.

But Avicenna has inherited her mother’s gift. Finding an unlikely ally in the brooding Simon Thorn, she begins to piece together the mystery. And when she uncovers a link between Joanne’s disappearance and a cold-case murder, Avicenna is led deep into the city’s dark and seedy underbelly, unaware how far she is placing her own life in danger.

I probably would have been less surprised by the book if I'd read the blurb, but on the other hand, the blurb is not entirely accurate either. Avicenna's mother disappears and the story opens with her calling the police. Most of the book is about her dealing — emotionally and practically — with her mother's disappearance. A few other things happen along the way, albeit mostly as a consequence of being left motherless.

The police in this book were helpful and did all the right things. I liked that they weren't just another set of antagonists and that Avicenna set up a rapport with her main liaison and came to think of him as a bit of a father figure. While Avicenna makes a few poor decisions, they're mostly of the not wanting to answer her phone variety, which was understandable and much less frustrating to read about than some YA protagonists.

Interestingly this book did not exclusively contain YA issues. Avicenna does have to deal with losing her mum at a young age but she also gets caught up in her mother's unfinished business, including a twenty-year-old unsolved rape and murder. Her sort-of friend, Simon, also has to deal with some pretty heavy issues, which I won't elaborate on because spoilers. It was a book that sucked me in straight away and one that I didn't want to put down, but it wasn't a fun book. That's not to say I didn't enjoy reading it, but it's not a book I'd recommend for some light escapist reading. Just saying.

Also, it's set in Melbourne with Avicenna and friends in year 12 at a thinly-disguised well-known high school. She lives in Chinatown and the descriptions of the CBD were excellent. As someone who's spent most of their life living in Melbourne (albeit not in the CBD), I found it really easy to visualise exactly where she went, even when the precise place (like her home) was fictional. On a related note, it also brought up some racial issues in passing, which lent authenticity to the book from my perspective although I suspect some nuances might be lost on international readers not familiar with Australia's migrant history.

I really enjoyed The Astrologer's Daughter. It grabbed me even though I didn't realise I was in the mood for that sort of book. It's a nice mix of crime and contemporary fantasy and pretty light on the fantasy front (only the astrology, really). In many ways, I found myself thinking of it as a stealth crime novel. Avicenna doesn't set out to solve any crimes, only to deal with her own life problems, but the solutions find her anyway.

I highly recommend The Astrologer's Daughter to fans of YA of the contemporary, speculative and/or crime genres. It was a gripping book and certainly my favourite of Lim's that I've read.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Text Publishing (US edition June 2015)
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree that the story is quite different and darker than the blurb - in a good and unexpected way. I also appreciated the nuanced touches on racial issues and loved the realistic take on Avicenna's coming of age around the investigation too. I definitely need to check out more of Rebecca Lim's work in the future.

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