Book: “The Ghost Bride” by Yangsze Choo
Publishing Info: William Morrow, August 2013
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description from Goodreads: 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.
Review: This book has been hanging around on my TBR list for so long that I have zero idea where it came from, and honestly, had very little idea what it was even about. A historical book about Malaysia in the late 1800s? A ghost story? Fantasy book? Yep. Yep to all three. “The Ghost Bride” came out of left field and was everything I hadn’t known to look forward to.
There are so many things I could talk about with this novel, I’m not even sure where to start. First off, I guess, is the rich detail that Yangsze Choo brings to this story. The language, culture, and vibrancy of Malaya (now Malaysia) was so rich and nuanced throughout. It was like the most beautiful, most interesting history lesson on a part of the world and the merging of several cultures that I had very little understanding of to begin with. It was evident that Choo had meticulously researched her subject, and more impressively, she integrated these facts and details in a way that never felt unnecessary or distracting from what was, largely, a very action-packed story.
The story itself was also surprising. I guess if I had read the book description a bit more thoroughly, this might not have been as shocking. But the unexpected turn from a traditional, period piece story into a underworld fantasy adventure was a jolt to the system. And even throughout these more fantastical portions of the story, the narrative never lost sight of its foundation, even then laying more insight into the time period, culture, and religious beliefs of the people of Malaya. (It is worth noting that while elements of this story were created by the author, she includes detailed author’s notes at the end that explain her decisions and provide even more insight into the background of these elements.) Even the ending was unexpected. About one third of the way through the book, I thought I had a pretty good idea where the story was going. About two thirds of the way through, I had changed this slightly, but it was still pretty much the same. The last 50 pages? Nope, I had it all wrong the whole time and the story was even better for it!
The characters themselves were also well written and thought out. Li Lan is an endearing protagonist, Tian Bai a compelling villain, and side characters such as her loving, yet superstitious nanny, Amah, and Er Lang, a mysterious man who keeps crossing Li Lan’s path, add flavor and spunk to the story.
Additionally, I listed to the audiobook version of this story which was read by the author herself. She had a great voice, and her pronunciation was particularly useful for a book like this where I would have likely butchered half the words in my head had I been reading the book. If you enjoy historical stories with an fantastical element, definitely check out “The Ghost Bride.”
Rating 9: An unexpected yet very welcome surprise! Just like the ending of the story itself!
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