December 18, 2012

The Geomancer's Compass

by Melissa Hardy
Tundra Books
254 pp.
Ages 11-15

When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.  Alexis de Tocqueville
It's 2018 when thirteen-year-old Miranda's great-great-grandfather Charlie Liu, respectfully called The Grandfather, dies (choking on a moon cake!) and she first hears that her family has been cursed.  Her maternal grandmother, A-Ma, takes all the misfortunes that have befallen the Lius as evidence that evil spirits are plaguing the family.  And the evidence is striking: Miranda's father is debilitated after being struck by lightning; her mother suffers from excruciating muscle pain; her little brother Liam has life-threatening respiratory problems; her brother Sebastian is going blind; her Auntie Ev is now wheelchair-bound; her cousin Brian deals with ADHD and dyslexia; her Uncle Phil was killed when an icicle fell and pierced his jugular; her cousin Oliver suffers from agoraphobia and is at a private clinic; and her cousin Aubrey had an eating disorder that has put her in hospital again.

Three years later, germaphobic Miranda is attending St. Izzy's school for computer geniuses and interning at CanBoard, a company involved with augmented reality (AR) in Calgary when she is summoned home to Vancouver with the news that her dying A-Ma needs to see her.  A-Ma gives Miranda The Grandfather's geomancer's compass, known as a lo p'an, which is used by geomancers to identify and balance subtle energies in people's lives.  Miranda is instructed to safeguard the compass and to lift the curse from the family.  It seems that in the early 1900's The Grandfather's twin brother, Qianfu, was beaten to death in Moose Jaw for falling in love with a white waitress, Violet McNabb.  After burial, his bones went missing and were undoubtedly buried in a place with bad feng shui, resulting in Qianfu's rebirth as an e gui, a hungry ghost filled with pain and craving.  Miranda's mission is to travel with her cousin Brian (who can drive, is strong, is appreciative of the old ways, and can handle things Miranda is paranoid to touch) to Moose Jaw and help find Qianfu's bones.

So begins the mission of the two Liu cousins as they seek a part of their family's past while employing the futuristic tools of Miranda's techie passions.  In Moose Jaw, they take the tours of the underground tunnels, one focusing on the bootlegging gangsters and the other on the experiences of the Chinese immigrants such as The Grandfather and Qianfu.  Using a feng shui network and I-spex (to see computer-generated imagery), Miranda and Brian make contact with an avatar who is unquestionably The Grandfather.  The avatar elaborates on the tour guide's commentary about his business, the Azure Dragon Tea and Herb Sanatorium (still owned by the Lius because no one wants to buy a haunted property), and the prejudices leveled against the Chinese. Finally Miranda has an appreciation for The Grandfather and what he and his family endured.
"My life was incredibly easy compared to theirs; I owed them everything, especially The Grandfather.  Where I had seen a slightly smelly, possibly senile Yoda action doll, way past his expiry date, there had been nothing less than a giant." (pg. 116)
But it still takes some crafty problem-solving, a little golfing, and a porta-potty debacle, along with a little help from The Grandfather avatar and a homeless man, before Miranda and Brian can fulfill their destinies, even if circumstances are not as they expect.

Melissa Hardy melds the past and the future into an unexpected storyline in The Geomancer's Compass while enlightening readers about some Chinese traditions and concepts, including those unmindfully adopted by others, such as feng shui and chi.  While I had been under the mistaken belief that The Geomancer's Compass was a tool from medieval times (okay, I was wrong), I was delighted to realize the book bridged Canadian history (even if it isn't all flattering) with science and fantasy.  While many readers may not be as enamoured with history as I am, I was engrossed with details about Moose Jaw's underground tunnels, about the gangsters who established business in Canada during Prohibition and how Chinese immigrants braved their mistreatment.  Sadly, this is the history that "illuminates the future" (see the quote from Alexis de Tocqueville above).  Luckily Miranda is able to use her tech skills to help right the wrongs of the past, which consequently allows her to see beyond herself (her germaphobic nature definitely reflects her self-absorption) and appreciate her valuable heritage.  Just as a lo p'an is used to balance energies, The Geomancer's Compass capably balances the past and the future while harmonizing the Miranda's rich essences.

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