Author: Yangsze Choo
Provided Synopsis: 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: Forget the characters. The true appeal of The Ghost Bride is the setting. To offer some explanation, a ghost bride is taken and arranged by the family of a restless spirit in the afterlife. The idea is that the marriage will provide the male ghost with stability, and the woman would be provided for the remained of her life by the family she has married into, which is a somewhat ideal situation when you realize that most women chosen as ghost brides are poor.
The main character of the story, Li Lan, is a relatively poor young woman now that her father has squandered the family fortune. She adamantly refuses the offer when she approached by the Lim family to become a ghost bride, and then must contend with the persistence of her suitor as he devises ways to visit her in her dreams. Once Li Lan has finally reached the end of her patience, she takes drastic action and catapults herself into further understanding of the Chinese perception of the afterlife. It is from here on out that book really excels.
I really enjoyed being able to read about the Chinese afterlife, along with all the ways that the soul moves through space and time until they are summoned to the high court to be judged. In order to not give anything away plot wise, I will only say that the adventure Li Lan goes on is unlike anything that I had ever read before. The complexity of human nature is explored throughout characters from life and the afterlife. The romance aspect of it, as hinted at within the premise, is not as cliché as would be imagined. Like I said at the beginning of this review, the true star of this book is the setting and immersion into Chinese mythology that the author gives the reader — every other aspect of the book such as characters and the mystery subplot pale in comparison to this.