Title: The Ghost Bride
Author: Yangsze Choo
Publisher: William Morrow Books (HarperCollins)
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Acquired Via: TLC Book Tours
"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.
Being as a tend to read a lot of young adult novels, it is easy for me to forget out delicious a well-written piece of literary fiction can be. The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo is a beautiful novel that satiated my adult reading hungers. Journeying with Li Lan through the spirit world and watching her meet various spirits unfold the mysteries surrounding the Lim family and her own was mesmerizing.
Li Lan is very similar at first to many of the female characters that pop up in the young adult novels that I have been reading of late. She is book-smart and isolated from society, both due to her father. Li Lan then suddenly has the attentions of not one but two wealthy suitors, but, unfortunately, the one who is pursuing her the most ardently is a dead man. However, she is not the sort of young person to take the easy way out, and she does not at any point in The Ghost Bride. Instead of only searching for a way for her to reenter her body, she helps Er Lang on his quest to discover the corruption in the spiritual government that has become tied up with the Lim family. Although she believes herself to be falling in love with Tian Bai, she is also determined to find out if it was he who killed his cousin (and her other suitor), Lim Tian Ching. Li Lan also wins the "Awesome Heroine of Awesome" award from me because of who she chooses at the end of the book.
Oh, the world-building of The Ghost Bride was fascinating! Before reading it, I had only heard of the practice of marrying a live person to a ghost once before when I read Bearing an Hourglass by Piers Anthony. That one was not set in Asia (as far as I can remember), but the concept was not surprising to me when I started The Ghost Bride. I was drawn to the book because of this, and the symbolism of the title ended up having quite a few layers. (Saying too much about that is a little spoilery.) Adding magic, ghosts, mythology, and history to this made The Ghost Bride a true pleasure read. The spirits and superstitions were described in such a way that I felt like I was missing anything, though I am not terribly well-researched in Eastern religions or mythology. Choo could have been making everything up, as far as I know, but I did not have any gabs in my understanding of what was happening. Malaya in the 1890s and the spirit world were both intriguing places for my mind to explore with Li Lan.
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo is one of the most gorgeously written novels that I've read this year. I had it read in no time, despite the fact that I usually try to take my time and savor literary pieces when I can get my hands on a good one. The mixture of mythology, magical realism, and historical fiction was truly a delightful spectacle for my imagination.
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About the Author
Yangsze Choo is a fourth-generation Malaysian of Chinese descent. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Harvard, she worked as a management consultant and at a start-up before writing her first novel. She lives in California with her husband and their two children, and loves to eat and read (often at the same time).
Find out more about Yangsze at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.
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To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received a copy of the novel from the publisher through TLC Book Tours in exchange for an unbiased review. It has in no way affected the outcome. All expressed opinions are awesome, honest, and courtesy of me.