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The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Why I picked it up:I've never read a fantasy novel set in 1890s Malaysia back when it was still a British colony before. Also, the excerpt I read pulled me in.
Goodreads rating: 4/5 Stars
Review in a nutshell: Really eerie story about the relationships between the living and the dead in a unique setting. Some plot points were a bit thinly developed, but still definitely worth your time if you like history and ghost stories.


I love stories about characters who have to enter the Underworld, or Annwn, or Hades, or the Paths of the Dead, in order to complete their quest, fulfill their purpose. You name it, I'm there for it. This book put a spin on it I hadn't seen before. Li Lan, our heroine, is the only daughter of a Chinese-Malaysian family who gets a very unusual offer from a much more prominent family - become a ghost bride to their son, who has recently died. The first part of the book builds slowly, definitely hinting that all is not right with the Lim family, setting up Li Lan's attraction to Tian Bai, the new Lim family heir, but just when you think that this is going to be a story that takes place mostly in this world, with Li Lan trying to fend off advances from her ghostly suitor while navigating the family politics of her new in-laws... she ends up getting her spirit severed from her body, wandering around her city not quite a ghost, but not quite living either.

This is when things really got interesting. Li Lan's travels in the world of the living as a spirit, and her time on the plains of the dead were creepy in the best possible way. The way that the author describes all of the objects and food in the plains of the dead as not quite right, as if they are indistinct copies of themselves was really understated but at the same time made the strangeness of the world of the dead really stand out.

Along the way, Li Lan has to confront some uncomfortable truths about her family's history, and gets tangled up in the politics of the Courts of Hell when she realizes her dead potential fiance (who is a nasty piece of work) is in up to his neck with corrupt underworld officials, and she's the one who has to get evidence against him in return for help returning to her body.

By the end of all these adventures, as happens to many protagonists who step out of normal human existence for a while, Li Lan is changed. She can't go back to the life she thought she wanted for most of her time on the plains of the dead. So she chooses life with Er Lang, the Not at All Human guide she met while still in the spirit world. At first, this choice didn't sit right with me, but when I realized how well it fits in with all of the other characters who are irrevocably changed by their adventures, I liked it a lot better. A good ending (and beginning...) for a character who went through a lot to find out where she came from and what she wanted out of life.

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August 2014

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