The Ghost Bride
by Yangsze Choo
Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.
Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family's only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.
After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim's handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family's darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.
It took a while to get into this book, but once the story gets rolling, things pick up and the adventure is actually pretty amazing. The writing is beautiful and easy to follow, and Li Lan is actually a pretty great heroine, though I can't say that all the characters are entirely relatable.
Yangsze Choo certainly creates a wonderfully detailed spirit world, and it was fun trying to make little mental comparisons of what I know of the Chinese spirit world versus how it is interpreted in Malaya.
The Ghost Bride is a very enjoyable read, with a lot of wonderfully amazing descriptions and imagery. And, as little sense as this makes, it's almost completely realistic in it's supernatural setting; it took little suspension of disbelief for me to completely immerse myself into the story when Li Lan's adventure took a turn for the exciting.
The book DOES start out quite slow, and for a while you're stuck in limbo, not quite sure where the book was going to take you; and really, the only saving grace of those first couple parts of the book before Li Lan enters the spirit world is the writing.
Afterwards, the book is just pretty wonderful.
I hesitate to give it the rating that I ended up giving it because I really, honestly did really like this book. But there were still a few quibbles and flaws here and there that didn't quite work out for me. It took close to a month to finish reading this book, though I'm not sure if it had to do with that slow start or my mind being readily lured away by other reads.
I suppose my one other complaint about it would just be that the characters are not easily related to, though to be fair, Li Lan kind of takes over the entire book, and everyone else sort of dulls in comparison. Don't get me wrong--the character interaction isn't weak, and the characters themselves all have potentially interesting stories surrounding them. But this tale is certainly all about Li Lan--her adventure, her journey, her growth and development...
Nonetheless, for a wonderfully written diverse read, I would definitely recommend The Ghost Bride just for the beautiful writing alone; although the creative spirit world and amazing descriptions aren't too shabby either.