Title: The Ghost Bride
Author: Yangsze Choo
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Page Count: 384
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Notable Notables: Chinese/Malaysian culture and mythology, POC characters
Recommended Readers: Lovers of ghost stories, love stories, and underrepresented cultures
[This review was originally published on GoodReads.]
What a stunning debut novel! Once I started, I couldn’t put this one down for an instant. I even read it at work, sometimes on lunch break, sometimes not. Ssh! Don’t tell.
Yangsze Choo brings readers into the world of Chinese mythology and family politics. Anyone familiar with works such as The Tale of Genji, a Japanese classic, will instantly recognize the secrecy and intrigue that comes with being a part of a prestigious family and the advantageous relationships they make. The Chinese afterlife making a prominent appearance in the book is only an added bonus.
The Ghost Bride takes place in Malaysia, a Chinese providence, and follows a young woman named Pan Li Lan, whose opium-addicted father has allowed for his family and his estate to fall into poverty after the death of his wife. As a result, Li Lan has very few prospects for marriage, until the powerful Lim family makes Li Lan an offer: become a ghost bride for their recently deceased son, Lim Tian Ching. She would not be able to ever marry again, but she would want for nothing.
Though Li Lan refuses, her situation is only complicated when the spirit of Lim Tian Ching begins to haunt her, and she falls in love with his cousin, Tian Bai. But there’s an eerie mystery behind the Lim family and Lim Tian Ching’s death, and Li Lan is eventually drawn to the spirit world to discover just what it is. There she encounters fellow spirits, demons, and other creatures, but time is against her. For the longer she remains in the spirit world, the least likely her soul will be able to reunite with her body.
Anyone who loves Spirited Away will find similar intrigue with this novel. Though the beginning does drag a bit, Choo’s mastery of language and imagery more than makes up for it, and once readers have entered the spirit world with Li Lan, they’ll be as enthralled by it as she is. And once you’ve met Er Lang, you won’t want to leave.
Before I end my review, I wish to praise Yangsze Choo for her female characters especially. Most of the male characters take center stage with Li Lan, and it goes without saying that they are each complex and interesting people (though in the case of Lim Tian Ching, I wouldn’t say likable). Her female characters are more subtle but are no less important. In fact, it’s her female characters that usually create action within the story.
They are many and different and all wonderfully well-written. Other than Li Lan, there’s her Amah, her caretaker who is a delightful mix of contradictions as being Li Lan’s harshest critic and her most devout supporter. Then there’s Yan Hong, Tian Bai’s shrewd cousin; Fan, a ditzy romantic of a spirit with a selfish side; and Madame Lim, who seems to exemplify the mysteriousness of the Lim family.
Though events are sufficiently wrapped up by the novel’s conclusion, I truly didn’t want to leave the Chinese afterlife. In fact, I wanted to know more about the powerful beings that inhabited it, the courts of hell, and what becomes of Li Lan and her choice of husband afterward. The novel is left slightly open ended, leaving room for a sequel, which I would love to read. Though Choo has made no immediate plans for a sequel, she has a lot of unused material ready and isn’t opposed to one in the future. That alone gives me hope.