Ahoy there me mateys! Blustery winds and crazy seas are still severely limiting the time I have to read. So here be a Tidings post with a twist! The First Mate has been reading like a fiend. I
ordered asked him to write a review of something he recently read because I be going through withdraw and NEED to hear about books. At the end of his review I will decide whether the book is kept in the hold for me future reading pleasure or be keelhauled into the watery depths. Hope ye enjoy!
From the First Mate:
I decided to read Ghost Bride mainly for two reasons. One, it was Yangsze Choo’s debut, and I’m always very interested in seeing what work it was that allowed someone to actually break through in publishing. And two, I found the concept in the description to be compelling and different in such a way that I couldn’t come up with anything that I’d previously read like it.
Full disclosure: I know next to nothing about traditional Chinese religion and the afterlife described therein. Or, sadly, it might be more accurate to say that everything I know about traditional Chinese religion I learned from Egg Shen in Big Trouble in Little China, which pretty much means that I know less than nothing. As such, while reading the novel I never knew if the more fantastical elements of the story (demons, transferring objects to the land of the dead by burning them, vampiric ghosts, bribing officials within the land of the dead, etc) were tenets of a religion, inventions of the author, or some combination. Not too deep into the story my decision was to experience it as a fantasy novel and avoided thinking about cultural connections altogether. Readers with broader knowledge of traditional Chinese religion and/or afterlife would likely have a different experience than I did.
The story of Ghost Bride didn’t follow the expectations raised in me by the book’s description. Li Lan, our protagonist, is asked if she wants to be a ghost bride to the recently deceased heir to a local wealthy family. I’d assumed that the story would follow the typical path of these sorts of tales, and that Li Lan would be wed to the deceased heir, thinking it was all just ceremonial, only to discover that all the traditions are true and spend most of the novel getting out of the situation. That didn’t really happen.
The traditions are true, but everyone (except for Li Lan’s father) already believes in them. While Li Lan is working to extricate herself from Tian-ching and his desire for her, she really spends more time investigating criminal elements within the land of the dead. The afterlife presented is one of painfully unfair bureaucracy that benefits the wicked, the conniving, and those who were wealthy in life. And, of course, Li Lan’s family is connected in horrible ways to the family of her ghost betrothed.
Ultimately Ghost Bridge is a historical supernatural romance with mystery elements. Li Lan has multiple suitors, some more worthy than others. There are twists aplenty — some fairly predictable, some ultimately quite surprising. The author’s voice is very well developed, the characters are mostly interesting and engaging, and the writing is good throughout. Towards the last quarter of the book there are a lot of different things going on and not everything gets quite the attention it deserves (two different characters’ storylines are resolved in offhand comments), but the main characters and storylines are handled very well. I know I was really rooting for Li Lan in the tenser situations.
Yangsze Choo has a second book out, The Night Tiger, which I’ll probably get around to reading at some point. Ghost Bride appears to have been turned into a Netflix series.
Recommended to fans of historical paranormal romances and fans of fantasy novels dealing with a bureaucratic afterlife. Definitely avoid if romance isn’t your thing as the romantic elements are always present, regardless of whatever else is going on.
Yer Captain’s Verdict:
KEEP! Arrrr! Unlike the First Mate, I love Chinese inspired novels be it historical fiction or fantasy. I had heard about this one but wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read it. I will now so that I can discuss this with the First Mate. Have any of ye read it? Let me know. Also if ye want some good Chinese historical fiction fantasy check out the girl with ghost eyes – book 1.
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
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.
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