Ship of Fates

Lanternfish. Apr. 2020. 144p. ISBN 9781941360316. pap. $12. FANTASY
DEBUT In this slim first novel, Chung crafts a dark, original fairy tale about fate, consequences, and the origins of California’s gold. An unnamed narrator in an unidentified time begins the story, visiting an abandoned lighthouse in San Francisco. The heavy door is answered by an age-defying Chinese woman, who serves tea and starts spinning stories. She begins in 1000 BCE China with teenage Mei, promised in marriage to a stranger. Instead, she steals his riches, flees to San Francisco, and flings the gold into area rivers. She changed her fate, but at great cost. Mei is now cursed to live until she reclaims all the gold. The Gold Rush arrives before she finishes, and her desperation grows. Spanning generations, focusing largely on Chinese women in and around San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, the story explores fate, the oppression women faced, and how Mei’s progressively riskier acts, including attempts to sacrifice other women to save herself, affect those around her.
VERDICT Speaking to the difficulties that faced women, particularly immigrants in the 1800s, this is a powerful if bleak look at the nature of California’s Barbary Coast. Recommended for fans of unique historical fiction.

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