Title: The Ghost Bride
Author: Yangsze Choo
Genre: New Adult Fantasy
Diversity: Asian MC, Non-Western Setting
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, traditional ghost marriages are used to placate restless spirits. 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 Lims’ 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.
THE GHOST BRIDE is split into four parts. I bought it through Audible and, once I got to part four, I had to speed it up because I couldn’t get through it fast enough–I HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS right then and there.
So let’s dive right in.
What I Liked
The world of THE GHOST BRIDE is actually two worlds. There’s the world of Malacca, in the Malay of the late 1800’s which Choo painstakingly builds for us, from Li Lan’s childhood home to the breathtaking Chinese-style mansion of the Lim family. Then there is the world beyond. It’s hard to go into what the description refers to as “ghostly cities” without getting too spoilery but let’s say I found the second world was steeped in Chinese lore which brings it tantalizingly to life throughout the story.
It’s been a long time since I met a cast of so many starkly different people with varying agendas so expertly written together.
Li Lan is a wonderfully refreshing protagonist–a young woman who finds herself the object of obsession by a recently dead, entitled young man. She is not hyper-skilled or knowledgeable as many female protagonists are (especially in YA fantasy, which this is not, admittedly), but she is incredibly resourceful. She is an active participant in her own story.
The description doesn’t go much into other characters and everyone is so important that it’s hard to discuss others without spoilers. Choo has done a fantastic job of providing a supporting cast and villain whose agendas and actions are distinct but still follow the throughline of the story.
It’s just so good. Go read it.
What I Disliked
Admittedly, part one is a little slow and the ending of the book a little rushed. Still, no matter how slow the beginning, the other three parts more than make up for it. The ending is not hyper-telegraphed and I pretty much got exactly what I wanted out of it, so I didn’t mind.
The only other tiny thing that kind of bothered me is that the book’s main villain, Lim Tian Ching, is the only person who is made out to be quite ugly (other than Li Lan’s father, who is scarred from smallpox while Lim Tian Ching is just generally not fun to look at). He is a horrible person, too, but it seemed a little obvious to make the love interest overwhelmingly handsome and the villain who obsesses over her overwhelmingly ugly.
I thought at first that THE GHOST BRIDE was an adult fantasy (mostly from the girl on the cover, who looks to be in her twenties, at least), and it certainly may find a place on that shelf but it’s actually a coming of age story, putting it more in a YA or NA category. I think anyone who enjoys fantasy books for teens and up will enjoy this book. From the characters to the story to the lore (and the intensive research behind it, which Choo talks about in her notes section), THE GHOST BRIDE is a book any fan of fantasy will enjoy.
I HIGHLY recommend buying this as an audiobook. It’s read by the author–which I always love because you know it’s being told EXACTLY as they wanted–and, in this case, you have the added benefit of hearing all of the Chinese words and names in their correct, historically accurate pronunciations. No, seriously, Choo includes notes on how pronunciation changed and how she decided which to use.
Yangsze Choo has become a must-buy author for me, so check her debut novel out today and become entranced in the world of THE GHOST BRIDE.