Title: The Ghost Bride
Author: Yangsze Choo
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: Hardcover; 368
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
HDB Rating: 3 Keys to My Heart
Recommended to: Readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially centering around Chinese culture.
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"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.
I don't think I was quite expecting what I found between the pages of The Ghost Bride. Perhaps it's because I glazed over the synopsis, rather than reading it carefully, but I wasn't ready for the more fantasy driven part of this book. I was expecting a story about a girl who was fated to be sold off as a ghost bride. A story rich with history. I was given both of these things, but also so much I didn't see coming. Li Lan's story is based around her Chinese culture, but with a paranormal twist stemming from mythology.
I'm not entirely sure when this book is meant to take place, but Li Lan reads as a more modern woman than I was anticipating. She's opinionated and intelligent. Her views on women and society are at odds with the others around her. I was charmed by her fresh, no-nonsense take on the world around her. What really threw me for a loop though is how young she really seems. I've seen this book labeled as adult fiction, but Li Lan's personality really feels like it has more of a young adult feel. Especially once the paranormal aspect comes into play.
However the biggest issue I had with The Ghost Bride was the writing style. Lots of telling, instead of showing. For example, describing an article of clothing. Rather than have the reader infer what it is through the writing, Li Lan will just directly explain what it is for, how it's worn and how she knows. If the protagonist I'm following is of the culture the book is based in, I somewhat assume they know about traditional clothing. I felt like I was being lead of a guided tour, instead of swept up in a mysterious story. That's not to say that the story itself isn't ultimately interesting. The folklore, mystery, and unexpected twists definitely created a need to keep reading. If you can see past the writing style, the story underneath is actually very well done.
My very jumbled feelings are why I ultimately decided on a three star rating for this book. There were aspects of The Ghost Bride that I really enjoyed, and others that took away from the journey. If you are a reader who often reads historical fiction, this might be something you enjoy. Especially since it has the added bonus of a bit of mythology to keep things fresh.
FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.