The Ghost Bride
By: Yangsze Choo
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
“One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride.”
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.
Oh man, I’ve been wanting to read this book for soooooooooo long! xD And then when I did get my hands on it, it sat on my TBR pile for a very long time (including an incident whereby I “lost” it on my Kobo library–very weird), until finally I decided to start reading it whilst on the way to and from work 🙂 And then I couldn’t put it down afterwards, hence me finally finishing said book 😛
Suffice to say, why did it take me so long to get around to it?! It was amazing. Admittedly it was a bit slow at the beginning as you are introduced to the characters, the families, the relationships between families, and the world of late 19th century Malaya, but once the story hits its stride and Li Lan is confronted with the conflicts and perils associated with this unusual proposal, the book just becomes unputdownable. It was quite an adventure as Li Lan finds herself navigating through the mysterious and yet familiar afterlife that has its down system of governance, complete with its own form of corruption, loopholes, and hierarchy of those with means and those without. It’s fascinating, the ancient Chinese concepts of the afterlife and customs concerning the dead very informative (there’s some additional notes about their customs at the end of the book for more information 🙂 ). At one point it occurred to me that it reminded me of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (review), one of my favourite movies from him!
Li Lan is a wonderful protagonist who undergoes great character development over the course of the novel from a sheltered and young woman to a woman who takes charge of her destiny and makes decisions independent of what custom dictates or what her father and amah feels on the matter. She goes through quite a bit throughout the novel, from being haunted by an unwanted suitor to first love to encountering all kinds of people–good, bad, manipulative, and ominous–and travelling great distances to achieve her goals. The other characters that populate this story–from the mysterious Er Lang to the stern but caring Amah–were fully realised characters and a delight to read.
If there’s any drawback to this novel, it’s that
Overall I greatly enjoyed The Ghost Bride, it had a bit of everything: adventure, romance, suspense, family drama. Concepts of the Chinese afterlife and related customs were very interesting to read and learn about, and the characters were wonderful and rootable and I was just wholly absorbed to see how everything was going to turn out. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for something different to read! 😀