fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Geomancer’s Compass by Melissa Hardy YA fantasy book reviewsThe Geomancer’s Compass by Melissa Hardy

Melissa Hardy’s YA fantasy novel, The Geomancer’s Compass, is a nice blend of Canadian history and Chinese mythology. The short book follows two inventive Chinese-Canadian cousins on a quest to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to recover something that is lost, and break the curse of bad luck that haunts their wealthy family.

Miranda Liu is a brilliant computer whiz and a bundle of nervous tics. At sixteen, she is on her way to making a name for herself in the world of computer generated Augmented Reality, when a frantic phone call from her mother in Vancouver brings her home. Her grandmother is dying. She gives Miranda an antique feng shui compass and a mission to save the family.

Miranda is hyper-rational and says she doesn’t believe in curses, but the evidence of her family’s bad luck is pretty hard to refute. While the Lius are very wealthy, they are beset by physical ailments and strange debilitating accidents. Her father was struck by lightning and her mother is exhibiting symptoms of something that looks like fibromyalgia. Her older cousin Brian is dyslexic, another cousin agoraphobic, another anorexic, and her younger brother has a severe asthma.

Her grandmother, A-Ma, tells Miranda a chilling story of racial bigotry and violence in early 1900s Moose Jaw, where her great-great-uncle Qianfu was killed. Before he could be given a proper Chinese burial, his bones disappeared. A-Ma believes that the bones must be recovered and given proper respect if the curse is to end.

When A-Ma dies, Miranda reluctantly agrees to use the last two weeks of her summer vacation to go to Moose Jaw and search for the bones. Since she can’t drive, her mother drafts cousin Brian to tag along. Brian can barely read but he is a cheerful, friendly type, and actually knows a lot about a lot of things, because he asks questions. With Miranda navigating their state-of-the-art futuristic software, (which her deceased great-great-grandfather is inhabiting as an avatar) the two of them set out to find and liberate the bones.

Miranda’s first-person narrative voice is immediate and quirky. Hardy cleverly plays with perceptions. Miranda narrates the story as if she is free of the family curse but as the book progresses, we realize that she is fearful (afraid of dogs, the game of musical chairs, golf and germs) and a control freak because of the tragedies that have happened all around her. In the course of the quest, Miranda is forced to question her assumptions about people and life. Most directly, she realizes that she has dismissed Brian because he can’t read, but that he is really quite smart.

Dialogue between the two cousins is funny but it sparkles when the Grandfather Avatar is in the mix. The Chinese ghost is convincingly frightening and the search itself cycles from mysterious to funny to scary, to back to funny.

Early in the book, Miranda and Brian take part in the underground tunnel tours in Moose Jaw. This is an important part of the book because it addresses the conditions in which the Chinese immigrants worked and lived. I wish Hardy had slowed down and made this section more visceral and sensuous. It is a rather bland part of the book, and a direct contrast to the sights, sounds and scents we experience later when Miranda and Brian are trying to dig up Qianfu’s bones.

The Geomancer’s Compass is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours and learn a little bit about the Chinese-Canadian experience. The book is clearly written for younger readers; the characters are not overly complex or contradictory. For a book this length (about 250 pages) aimed at this age group, I didn’t have a problem with that.

This futuristic novel has all the elements YA fiction needs to draw critical attention from reviewers, and to elicit award-nominations. It is thematically interesting, culturally diverse, well-written, futuristic, and very funny. Set in the year 2021, this fantastic YA novel explores the tension between a young woman’s future building infrastructure for Augmented Reality, and the commitment she makes to her dying grandmother to honour ancient Chinese magic. The Geomancer’s Compass imagines a world in the near future while exploring the Chinese immigrant experience and the expanding, elastic and shifting nature of reality.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

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