Book Review: The Ghost Bride

Synopsis according to Goodreads:
"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 listened to The Ghost Bride as an audiobook (narrated by the author), which was a wonderful way to experience this story. Set in Victorian Malaysia (controlled by the British, but a veritable melting pot of cultures), this is part folklore, part mythology and part magical realism.

There's a lot of Chinese culture undertones here, from belief in spirits and what happens in the afterlife, to food, dress, customs, filial duties, etc. For someone who knows very little about Chinese culture, it was a beautifully poetic backdrop to the story.

The story itself, while deftly interwoven with the folklore, is a young woman's adventure through death itself. I'd call it fiction, not YA, even though the protagonist is 18 years old. The themes are adult, and the projected path of the heroine is a bit more fraught than I expected.

Overall, listening to this story was like being read a beautiful take by my mother, and also like hearing a poetry reading by David Keplinger. It was just straight-up beautiful, with a healthy dose of mysticism thrown in for intrigue.

I highly recommend it to fans of Chinese folklore, mythology, and cultural beliefs in the afterlife, as well as fans of strong heroines, complicated romance, mystical journeys, historical fiction, and beautifully-developed environments.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,