Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Geomancer's Compass

The Geomancer's Compass

Melissa Hardy
For ages 12 and up
Tundra Books, 2012   ISBN: 978-1770492929

Three years ago, in 2018, Miranda’s great-great grandfather, known in the family as The Grandfather, finally passed away. When the family gathered to say their goodbyes, Miranda’s grandmother, A-Ma, and her mother talked about The Grandfather’s life, and Miranda learned that he was born in the back room of a laundry in Moose Jaw, a town out in the “boonies.” The year of his birth was 1884, a year before the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed. Miranda, who is a very logical and scientifically minded person, could not believe that The Grandfather was actually one hundred and thirty-four years old when he died. No one lives that long. A-Ma explained that sometimes people who have yet to complete their “life’s work” live longer than usual.  A-Ma clearly wanted to tell Miranda what that life’s work was, but Miranda’s mother shut her down. Apparently Miranda was “too young” to hear that part of The Grandfather’s story.

Later, when they are walking behind The Grandfather’s hearse, A-Ma talked about how there are malevolent spirits in the world who are out to harm humans. She said that the ill-luck that has plagued her family for years proves that such creatures exist. Everyone in Miranda’s family has been injured, become sick, or died. With the exception of Miranda. A-Ma is convinced that the family is cursed.

Now Miranda is sixteen and while she is completing an internship in Calgary her mother calls her to tell her that A-Ma has something that she wants to tell Miranda. It is implied that time is running out and so Miranda flies home to Vancouver to see A-Ma. When she gets to the family home she can see that A-Ma is indeed very sick. The old woman gives Miranda a geomancer’s compass that has been in the family for generations. A-Ma and The Grandfather decided long ago that Miranda was the one who should carry on the family tradition of being a geomancer, and now they need her to solve a family problem. A-Ma believes that the source of the family curse is The Grandfather’s brother’s restless spirit. Qianfu, Miranda’s great-great granduncle, was murdered when he was a young man when he had the audacity to fall in love with a white girl. Back then, Chinese immigrants living in Moose Jaw were expected to run their laundry businesses, stay hidden, and stay away from the white residents in the town.

The Chinese tradition then was to send the bones of deceased immigrants back home to China, but before Qianfu’s bones could be gathered and sent away they disappeared. A-Ma is convinced that his angry ghost is responsible for all the ill-fortune that has crippled her family. Miranda has to find Qianfu’s bones before it is too late, before the family is wiped out.

Though Miranda does not believe in malevolent ghosts she agrees to go to Moose Jaw to search for her relative’s remains, even though she has no idea how she is going to find something that disappeared more than a hundred years ago. Her cousin Brian is sent with her and the two young people begin exploring Moose Jaw, learning about their family’s past in the process. What they don’t expect is that The Grandfather, in the form of an avatar in a virtual reality environment, turns up and helps them. It is more than a little strange talking to and taking advice from a dead man, but then again their whole quest is bizarre.

Readers are going to thoroughly enjoy this unusual story, which combines history, paranormal elements, mythology, and technology to give us a story that is completely absorbing. The narrative is told from Miranda’s point of view, and we cannot help liking the geeky girl who is a germaphobe and who has a very hard time dealing with things that cannot be proven by science.