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The Ghost Bride

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Profile Image for Christine.
183 reviews255 followers
January 30, 2019
Before I start the book review, I’d like to bring you all to hell.

The Chinese Ten Courts of Hell, that is.

This particular hell is located at Haw Par Villa, Singapore. I first entered its dark depths in August 2006, and remember recoiling in horror when I saw a few bloody scenes you can view here.

So what are the Ten Courts of Hell? According to Chinese mythology, souls must enter these courts to be judged for the sins they committed in the land of the living. Each court deals with different sins and punishments, and it’s only after an offending soul suffers for its crimes — examples of punishments include being thrown on spikes, boiled in oil, or sawed in half — that it can be reincarnated or sent to paradise.

That first visit to the Ten Courts of Hell truly sparked my interest in anything and everything related to the Chinese afterlife. I started paying more attention to Qingming (the Tomb Sweeping Festival) and the idea of hungry ghosts, and was especially fascinated by the concept of ghost marriages after my aunty told me this sad and spooky story: back in the sixties, her classmate’s fiancé died in a car crash. Unable to accept his demise, the girl married her deceased lover after his funeral. I obsessed over that story for days, wondering how it was possible and whether my aunty’s classmate would be able to divorce her “husband” if she fell in love again.

So, with my interest in all things spooky, you can imagine my excitement when I heard about THE GHOST BRIDE by Malaysian debut author Yangsze Choo (HarperCollins, August 2013). Set in Malacca, Malaya (what is now Melaka, Malaysia) in 1893 during British rule, the novel is about a young Straits Chinese girl named Li Lan who has lost her mother to mysterious circumstances and her father to his opium addiction. One day, her father asks if she would consider marrying Lim Tian Ching, the son of a wealthy family. There’s only one little problem — he’s as dead as my aunty’s classmate’s ghost husband.

Li Lan is understandably horrified at the thought of tying herself to a dead man she barely knew, especially someone as repugnant as Lim Tian Ching. As he forces himself into her dreams, Li Lan is pulled deeper into the mystery of why this dead boy wants her and only her as his wife. To complicate things, she feels a growing attraction to the dead boy’s very-much-alive cousin, who is now the wealthy family’s heir. And if being haunted by one ghost isn’t bad enough, she soon finds herself trapped in their world. Time is running out as she desperately tries to uncover dark secrets and fight her way back to the land of the living.

As a Malaysian, it felt like Choo was writing a personal story just for me. The sprinkling of Malay vocabulary felt like delicious candy in my mouth — I read them aloud — and though set more than a hundred years ago, I could picture it all in my head — the old Melaka streets, the Stadthuys in the town square (which I visited last September), the splendor of a grand Peranakan mansion. But Choo doesn’t leave Western readers in the dark — she gently explains things for those unfamiliar with this part of the world, and when the narrative moves to a location that is alien to everyone — the Plains of the Dead — Choo’s evocative descriptions still pulled me in and sent shivers down my back. I kept thinking of the Ten Courts of Hell pictured above. Though no part of the novel actually takes place in these courts, they are often alluded to by the lingering ghosts we encounter along the way, always with a sense of fear.

As much as I loved the Malacca setting and the spooky world Choo built, characters are what make me fall in love with a book, and here Choo succeeds as well. I grew attached to Li Lan, a young girl still finding her way in life, and loved the people rallying around her such as her spunky Amah, and Old Wong with his special vision. I appreciated that there wasn’t really a clear divide between good and evil, because two of the “villains” were ultimately flawed characters I felt sorry for.

THE GHOST BRIDE is great value for money — you get historical fiction, YA, fantasy, suspense, paranormal and multicultural fiction all in one! I am so glad there is a voice like Yangsze Choo’s out there, proving that writers of Malaysian descent can make it in the Western publishing world with genre-bending narratives.
September 23, 2013
It seemed to me that in this confluence of cultures, we had acquired one another’s superstitions without necessarily any of their comforts.
The star of this book is not Li Lan. It is not her book; the focal point is not the very mild romance, it is not the mystery. The overwhelming show-stealer is the setting, the background, the history, the superstition and traditional beliefs of turn-of-the-century Malaya.

I am Asian myself and I maintain my love of Asian culture despite having immigrated to the United States. I know a lot about the region and its history; for me, this book feels like going home. It is my equivalent of chicken soup (or rather, in the context of the book, herbal "chicken soup and cordyceps for stamina"). The setting is spectacularly beautiful, and so achingly familiar.

This is Malaya, or as we know it now, Malaysia. The port city is Malacca. The year is 1893. The history of the area is so interesting, and is the very definition of intermingling. I loved the amalgamation of cultures, of beliefs, of nationalities. The vivid setting and the descriptions of the setting and atmosphere are nothing short of spectacular. Every aspect of life in Malaya is cultivated from a mixture of the numerous cultures that form the heterogeneous society of this vibrant port city. Women's clothing vary from the Chinese cheong sam to the lower-class sam foo, to traditional Chinese formal wear, to the Indonesian baju panjang and kebaya. The food are mouth-wateringly portrayed, from a different mix of nationalities and their respective cooking traditions, and there are so many instances of it! Even if you do not start out hungry, you will end up starving by the time you finish this book.
They had all my favorite kinds of kuih—the soft steamed nyonya cakes made of glutinous rice flour stuffed with palm sugar or shredded coconut. There were delicate rolled biscuits called love letters and pineapple tarts pressed out of rich pastry. Bowls of toasted watermelon seeds were passed around, along with fanned slices of mango and papaya.
The author is of Malaysian descent, and her portrayal of the country shows her in-depth knowledge of Malaysia and its wonderfully rich history. It also shows clearly and understandably, her love for it. I also grew to love the setting and the country as if it were my own. It is beautifully portrayed, with tremendous respect for all the cultures and social classes represented. For me, the true star of the book is its setting, both of it. The real world, and the ghostly one. The superstitions, myths, legends, all are wonderfully told and portrayed.
I had seen some of the painted hell scrolls that depicted the gruesome fates awaiting sinners. There were people being boiled in oil or sawed in half by horse and ox-headed demons. Others were forced to climb mountains of knives or were pounded into powder by enormous mallets. Gossips had their tongues ripped out, hypocrites and tomb robbers were disemboweled. Unfilial children were frozen in ice. The worst was the lake of blood into which suicides and women who had died in childbirth or aborted their children were consigned.
I was utterly immersed and fascinated by the setting, and it feels so satisfying to read about something about which I'm familiar. This book would be even more fascinating to someone without a deep understanding of the culture. There is so much to be learned, so much to be gleaned from within this beautifully written book.

Li Lan is a beautiful 17 year old girl, hidden away during the most important years of her life. As a young woman of the upper class, from a good, old family, Li Lan should be out socializing and being seen and known by the other well-known "good" Chinese families in the area. Instead, she is languishing away in her family's grand, ancient, crumbling mansion, with a mentally absent, opium-addicted, wasted shadow of a father and only her loving, ancient Amah for company. It is a life of genteel poverty, and one from which Li Lan is not likely to escape anytime soon.
My father’s withdrawal from the world meant that he had sought out no friends with sons and had arranged no match for me. For the first time I began to fully comprehend why Amah was continually angry with him on this subject. The contrast between the realization of his neglect and the fondness I had for my father was painful. I had few marriage prospects, and would be doomed to the half-life of spinsterhood. Without a husband, I would sink further into genteel poverty, bereft of even the comfort and respect of being a mother.
Her father is not a despicable character, despite his faults. Formerly a wealthy merchant and a scholar, he now isolates himself from the world with the help of the opium pipe. Li Lan's father's story is a sad one, and even though he truly is a negligent father, I cannot despise him as a character. I find him tragic, but never reprehensible.

One day, Li Lan's father casually mentions that the very wealthy Lim family is interested in Li Lan as a potential bride for their son. There's just one caveat. The son is dead. Li Lan would be his ghost bride: wedded to his spirit though he is dead and she very much living. father said, “What, you don’t want to be a widow at almost eighteen? Spend your life in the Lim mansion wearing silk? But you probably wouldn’t be allowed any bright colors.” He broke into his melancholy smile. “Of course I didn’t accept. How would I dare? Though if you didn’t care for love or children, it might not be so bad. You would be housed and clothed all the days of your life.”
Her father never pressures her into this decision. He knows his faults, he regrets it, but like an addict, he cannot change his ways. Regardless, he still loves his daughter, he respects her decision...his daughter is a constant reminder to him of his much-beloved wife, whom he has long lost.

Li Lan gets invited to the Lim household, and sees the tempting glimpse of the lifestyle that she could have. She also sees and falls in love with someone whom she cannot have: the heir-to-be, the cousin of the deceased, Tian Bai. The more we find out about Tian Bai and Li Lan, the more tragic Li Lan's situation becomes. There is such terrible irony in the situation. More troublesome than the man Li Lan cannot have, is the dead man who wants her. Li Lan is haunted by the spirit of Tian Ching, her proposed ghost husband. He is a bumbling figure who becomes chillingly sadistic in how he comes to haunt Li Lan every night.

I absolutely loved Li Lan's nightmares, and how they slowly come to overshadow Li Lan's life. The dreams are gorgeously portrayed, they felt more realistic to me than many of the dreams about which I've read in other books; they feel like dreams I've had, nightmares I've had that have scared me. They are just detailed enough and vague enough for me to feel, as a reader, that they could be real. I felt Li Lan's terror as Tian Chiang becomes a darker character, childlike in his aggression, in his singleminded attitude of wanting what he cannot have.
Despite my terror, I felt a slow burning in my stomach. Why should I be married to this autocratic buffoon, alive or dead?
“I don’t think so.”
“I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I don’t want to marry you!”
Lim Tian Ching’s eyes narrowed into slits. Despite my bold words, my heart quailed. “You don’t have a choice in this matter. I’ll ruin your father.”
“Then I’ll become a nun.”
“You don’t know the extent of my influence! I’ll haunt you; I’ll haunt your father; I’ll haunt that meddling amah of yours.” He was raging now. “The border officials are on my side, and they said I have a right to you!”
“Well, you are dead! Dead, dead, dead!” I shrieked.
His threats are not empty promises. Tian Chiang's influence seemingly reaches beyond the afterlife and Li Lan's dreams. He torments and terrorizes her to such an extent that her spirit dissipates...she is turned into a shadow, a living ghost. Forced into the parallel ghostly underworld, Li Lan has to solve a number of mysteries and make some questionable alliances in order to return to the world of the living.

Here is where the book weakens. There is just so much going on within it. The plot moves along at a slow pace, a reasonable one, but there are so many mysteries and so many plot lines that it is difficult for me to keep things straight.

For example, in the living world, we have: the mystery of Tian Chiang's death, the mystery surrounding Tian Bai, Li Lan's illness and its relation to the haunting, her father's secrecy, the mysterious behaviors of the people in the Lim family, the mysterious character that she encounters at the medium. In the underworld, we have still more mysteries, still more secret plots, still more family mysteries to be untangled. There are ghosts, demons, long-dead relatives, officials of the Courts of Hell, the mystery of bribery and the border officials. And that's not to mention where things intersect.

Oy vey! There is a lot of plot going on here, and it oftentimes made my head spin. It was also really confusing in some parts, largely because so much of the book is based in a ghostly parallel world and within dreams. At times, it was hard for me to tell what is actually real, and what is taking place within a dream---which is also real, but a dream. Confusing, yes. Some parts of the book seemed largely extraneous, some people and certain interactions did not contribute much to the plot movement, and it bored me at some points.

The characters are very much present, and not unlikeable, but largely lacking in color and in life compared to the setting itself. Li Lan is a sympathetic character, and very much likeable; she is very sheltered, very innocent, but never acts stupid to the point where I was frustrated with her actions. I felt her frustrations at times, Malaya is not traditionally Chinese, and women are given a lot more freedom than those in mainland China. Despite the fact, Li Lan is still helpless and confined in so many ways, and I understood her frustration for the helplessness of her fate.
What was happening out in the world of men? Had Tian Bai talked to his uncle again? What were we to do with our debts? How I wished I could go out and make inquiries by myself. If only I had a brother or a cousin to rely on. Despite the fact that my feet were not bound, I was confined to domestic quarters as though a rope tethered my ankle to our front door.
Despite all this, I cannot really relate to her as a character, however sympathetic I am to her plight. She is a very small fish in a very large pond, and I can't help but feel that she lacks---life. No pun intended.

The romance is very, very light here. However much she swoons over Tian Bai, it never feels like love. Tian Bai is a nice guy, he really is. He is, however, completely lacking in personality. I hate to say it, but he has no character that I can discern. He's the boy next door, who has yet to mature into someone interesting. Li Lan's love for him doesn't feel like love so much as a very sheltered schoolgirl's infatuation with the very first eligible boy she meets...and he truly is. It's not as if Li Lan has had a chance to interact with many guys before, really, none at all. Her obsession with him, her despair over their forbidden-love situation just makes me want to roll my eyes and scoff "Teenagers!"

Warning: there is a love triangle within this book. It's wonderful! Spectacular! Nope. Please. You guys know me and my feelings about love triangles. It's forced, it feels unnatural, and it is so very predictable and strange, considering the situations in which Li Lan and the third wheel interact. From the very first moment Li Lan sets eyes on the mysterious stranger, I sighed to myself "Here we go again," and I was right. It wasn't really annoying, because the romance in this book is so light as to be almost nonexistent. As I said before, the star of the book is the setting, the romance and the characters are but the means to the end of the mystery.

In summation: this is a beautifully written book, with a wonderfully built atmosphere, bogged down somewhat by rather bland side characters. The plot is interesting, but is too slow at times, and is rendered confusing by the inclusion of dream sequences. Still, it comes highly recommended by me for anyone seeking a fascinating read. It is certainly one of the best books I've read this year in terms of historical and cultural accuracy, and the pure beauty of the writing.
March 27, 2021

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Update: I FINALLY got around to watching the TV adaption on Netflix. If you're not watching it, what are you doing????? It's everything that is good about Asian dramas but with a supernatural twist and brilliant cinematography.

I'm very picky about fantasy novels. All of my favorites have some unusual hook or quality that make them stand out from the rest. I knew as soon as I started THE GHOST BRIDE that it was going to be one of these stories. Set in late 19th century Malaysia, it is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl named Li Lian, who lives with her opium-addled father and her caring nurse. She's about the age to be married, but the man she should marry is now bound to someone else, and the rich Lim family wants to secure her as a "ghost bride" for their departed son.

Li Lian refuses, and that should be the end of it, but soon she starts seeing the dead son, Lim Tian Ching, in her dreams. As his presence becomes increasingly more menacing, Li Lian takes drastic action to escape him which ends up backfiring horribly. Suddenly, she's half here, half in the spirit world, and in her quest to get back to her body, she'll have to venture into the fringes of the Chinese Underworld, learning more than she ever wanted to know about the Lims' sordid history-- and her own.

I freaking loved this book. One of my favorite movies is Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, which I rewatched recently, and I loved it for how affirming it is about life, death, and spiritualism. THE GHOST BRIDE is like the Malaysian version of that, only with more depth: there is vengeance from beyond the grave, love and romance that transcends mortal lifetimes, and magic and wonder, as well as the menacing courts of hell in which the departed must pay their dues, Dante's Inferno style, before journeying towards their final stop. It was dark, wondrous, and fascinating.

It helps, of course, that Li Lian is a capable heroine with a lot of agency. She acts seventeen, making the foolish mistakes a seventeen-year-old would. We see her rush to meet her challenges head-on with the brashness of youth, and see her fall in and out of love with the whims of a young woman. It isn't until she ends up in the spiritual in-between that she realizes just how much she has taken her youth-- and her life-- for granted. Even though this isn't young adult, I think it would appeal to a young adult audience because so many of the themes are universal, in my opinion.

I was a bit hesitant to read this at first because I was not quite as fond of THE NIGHT TIGER, which was interesting and rich in history but hard to follow. But this is a very different book from THE NIGHT TIGER, and the narrative is much neater. So if you didn't care for her other work, I would strongly urge you to read this one anyway, as they are very different beasts. I would dearly love to see this as an animated story. I think it would make an amazing movie and I hope some enterprising film agent buys up the rights because this is such a great story, and it deserves to be on the big screen.

P.S. At least one of those stars is for Er Lang. I'd tell you more, but I don't want to drag on.

5 stars
Profile Image for Orsolya.
616 reviews287 followers
August 9, 2016
Imagine having to marry a deceased bridegroom. Yes, you read that correctly. Although uncommon, this was the practice among some folk-lore practicing Chinese and is the ill-fate of Li Lan , a young woman in 19th century Malyasia in “The Ghost Bride” by Yangzse Choo.

Despite some beautiful imagery and scene settings, “The Ghost Bride” is painfully slow. Even though it has the calming zen-like presence common to most Asian historical fiction novels; the plot is halted, as well. Choo has the habit of telling Li Lan’s story versus allowing the reader to ‘live’ it which is unusual as the story is told in 1st-person narrative. Li Lan never comes alive and is one-dimensional, boring, and not available for attachment. This weakens the pace of the story and filters the characters.

“The Ghost Bride” flows too much like a young adult fictional novel as Choo simplifies and overly romanticizes the plot (in a teen lust of way) while also constantly explaining things. Meaning, Choo interrupts dialogue to explain a Chinese term or tradition or even has the characters explain these to each other in a “As you know, Bob…” style common to annoying HF novels. This is not how people think or speak to each in ‘real life’ taking away from the reality of the story. Also annoying is Choo’s overuse of foreshadowing which isn’t subtle, to say the least.

Although “The Ghost Bride” is rich in historical context in terms of the story settings; the characters act, think, and respond in a much too modern way in comparison to other Asian historical fiction novels. “The Ghost Bride” is noticeably modernized, reducing the possibility of memorable and moving characters and/or plots. The novel simply lacks that special “oomph”.

Even though “The Ghost Bride” has some strong moments, it generally repeats the same events over and over (just in a new way) with pages passing in an uneventful manner. When something does happen, the reader can’t truly feel it. Sadly, the idea behind “The Ghost Bride” is strong but the execution is poor. In fact, instead of being filled with strong folklore, much of the context just seems silly and fantastical.

Much of the novel takes place in a supernatural world embedded in a mystery which is less action-packed than the characters make it seem. Albeit creative, this ghost plot is equivalent to the fictional books smothering the marketplace filled with vampires and wolves adding to that YA feel. In a sense, nothing “really” happens in “The Ghost Bride”. This is also reflected onto Li Lan whose character never grows resulting in a flat and even non-existent character arc.

“The Ghost Bride” increases in excitement upon reaching the climax which does add to its readability and reader tolerance but it still lacks depth and the elements which would attract an adult reader. I can’t stress enough how much the book follows a YA path. Sometimes it is even less than YA, as I envisioned it as a children’s book. Surprisingly, there are some unexpected occurrences toward the end of the novel which creates some interest and drama. However, this slips into an ending which is too simple and “happily ever after” especially for a novel which attempted to be so adventurous, throughout.

“The Ghost Bride” is definitely more of a YA novel than for adults. If you enjoy teen-oriented pieces with supernatural or fantasy theme, then “The Ghost Bride” is perfect. Otherwise, it lacks depth, historical merit, and a moving story. “The Ghost Bride” is a prime example of an overly publicized book falling short of its grandiose claims. SKIP!
Profile Image for Adina .
888 reviews3,524 followers
August 4, 2023
Enjoyed this a lot although I did not have many hopes. I bought the book because I found it as book deal on kindle.

I am really happy i read it since I learned a lot about old Malaya's culture and history. Also, it was fascinating how the author introduced the reader into the world of the Chinese-Malayan myths about the afterlife.

What I liked most about this book is how beautifully the author describes the sights and culture of Malaya. I remember reading about some food the main character was eating at the party and it made me seriously crave for what she was eating. I do not think this happened in other books I read. She made me see, smell and feel, just like i was there inside the book.

The action flows fast enough not to get bored and there is also a love story. However, the magic of the book is in the worlds the author creates, both of the living and the dead.
Profile Image for kari.
849 reviews
December 4, 2013
In a word: disappointing.
This started out so positively, the first page had me hooked and then it went downhill, fell apart, became tedious and ended up a mess.
I think the main problem I have is that Li Lan is such a nothing character, sorry to say. She isn't interesting and has no personality. She has been educated in a fashion, that's the sum total of who she is. And she is like a child, easily distracted and believing of anything anyone anywhere tells her. Someone says this person( a good person) is a murderer, she believes it. Someone says this person(another good person)has run off to be a concubine and she believes it. Over and over.
She doesn't ever figure anything out for herself. Someone always tells her what she needs to know. She manages to find a spirit/ghost to tell her what she needs to know about the spirit world, who leads her to the Plains of the Dead where she meets yet another person who tells her how things are.
She never solves the mystery. The killer finally shows up and says "I did it" and exits.
The mystery of who is misbehaving in the afterlife is also told and not shown. We don't even get an idea of what will actually happen when the truth is revealed, other than the perpetrators will be dealt with. Okay then.
Obviously, from what I've said, there is almost total telling and little to no showing the plot. Yes, Li Lan floats about here and there and there and here and does a whole lot of nothing.
And waits for rescue after stupidly getting herself into trouble. Let me repeat that, she waits and calls out for rescue. This isn't a heroine.
She is also easily distracted by the newest pretty shiny thing to cross her path.
The ending is poorly done
Didn't like.
Profile Image for Holly  B .
849 reviews2,010 followers
October 26, 2022
A Chinese Folklore tale, told using such dreamy words!

My second by this author ( I loved The Night Tiger). I really enjoy her writing style. I'm not a big fan of the fantasy genre, but in her hands it was a success. The ghostly, creepy and strange worlds she wrote about created the most atmospheric journey. I found myself captivated and wanting to keep listening to one more chapter.

The four parts include Malaya in 1893, Afterworld, The Plains of the Dead, and Malacca

A marriage trying to be arranged between a dead person and a living person so a spirit might be placated. There is also plenty of suspense, shrieking, ghosts (and hungry ghosts)!, shadowy forms, demons, fairies and ox-headed creatures, YIKES!

I listened mostly, read a bit too. Narration was by the author and was amazing! Around 12 hours long.

I recommend, but ONLY if you enjoy fantasy, imaginative world-building, supernatural and a tad of romance.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,411 reviews35.2k followers
October 28, 2022
Beautifully written book with a beautiful cover. It captured my attention from page 1 and it was very hard to put down. There was a not a single page that I did not want to read.

The long and short of it is that Li Lan, the daughter of opium addicted and bankrupt man (her Mother passed away when she was a child). Her father receives an offer by a wealthy and powerful family. The Lim family want her to become a ghost bride for their recently deceased son, Lim Tian Ching.

After a visit to the Lim family home, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be husband, but also by her desire/crush/interest for the Lim's handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is haunted by Lim Tian Ching - a suitor who disturbs her in many ways.

After visiting a medium and feeling she has no options she "accidentally" takes to much "potion" and slips into a coma. This is really where the magic begins and the story becomes more and more interesting. She is drawn into the Chinese afterlife, full of ghost cities, deceased ancestors, hungry ghosts, demons, magic, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits, and, surprisingly, bureaucracy. In this Chinese afterlife she meets Er Lang, a type of official who becomes/acts as her guardian spirit. With Er Lang she learns that there is more to death (and life) than she ever imagined. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family's darkest secrets and in the process learns about her own ancestors and their family history.

Such a fantastic book. Highly recommend.

See more of my reviews at
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,605 reviews10.7k followers
June 2, 2023
I've had my eye on this gorgeous book for a very long time. After recently reading through some glowing reviews from friends, I decided not to put it off any longer. Proving that sometimes I do make good choices. It's rare, but it happens.

One of my favorite aspects of this ended up being the striking atmosphere. It was such a good fit as we transition from a spooky October into a still spooky, yet more cozy November...

Set in the 19th-century port town of Malacca, in colonial Malaya, this story follows 17-year old, Li Lan, who lives with her father and loving nursemaid, Amah.

Li Lan's family was once well-off, but due to her father's persistent opium addiction, they now find themselves virtually bankrupt.

Li Lan is at the point in her life when most young women her age are getting married. Due to their status, however, Li Lan finds herself without many prospects.

When her father first presents her with the idea of becoming a ghost bride for the wealthy Lim family, he says it lightly, sort of in passing; like he wasn't really considering it.

The local practice of ghost brides are said to calm restless spirits of those who have passed on. The Lim's son, Lim Tian Ching, has recently died under mysterious circumstances and his mother seems set on finding him a ghost bride.

Even though Li Lan would be set for life, having a lavish place to live, never wanting for anything, she's not into it. Tying herself to a dead man for the duration of her life, no thank you. She wants more, maybe even love.

When she gets invited to the Lim home for a visit however, she does accept. There's no reason to be rude. Plus, she's genuinely curious about the family.

It is a very interesting visit. She's mesmerized by their lifestyle and the characters fluttering around their lush estate. After the visit, the haunting of Li Lan begins.

In her dreams, Li Lan is visited by the dead Lim Tian Ching, whose spirit makes her incredibly uncomfortable for a host of different reasons. The nightly interactions begin to wear heavily upon her.

She even goes as far as visiting a medium to try to find a way to free herself of his spirit. In short, she's given a potion of sorts to try to help and after taking too much, Li Lan slips into a coma.

Y'all, I am really simplifying this here, but you get the gist. Through her condition, Li Lan is transported to the parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, where vengeful spirits, ghost cities and monstrous establishments abound.

There she meets Er Lang, a sort of spiritual guide, and they help her upon her journey. The more ensnared Li Lan becomes in this world, the greater the risk becomes that she will never be able to return to the mortal realm. It's a race against the clock.

I adored the menacing, magical tone of this. I loved the infusion of Chinese folklore. It's so interesting to read about and learn about. I have read a couple of other novels tackling similar concepts and always end up really enjoying the imagery of the dark underworld.

I did end up listening to the audiobook and I would absolutely recommend that format. It is actually narrated by the author and is completely mesmerizing.

I love when an author narrates their own story. If done right, it can just breath such energy and authenticity into it. Only they know exactly how their words should be read and wow, Yangsze Choo could be the best I've ever heard!!!

I know I am probably forgetting a million things that I wanted to say about this one. The goodness of it all has just zapped thoughts straight out of my brain.

Overall, I found this story to be beautifully-lyrical, fantastical and compelling. I'm so glad that I finally made time for it. I am definitely planning to read more from Yangsze Choo; looking forward to it. I'm a fan!

Profile Image for Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘.
849 reviews3,877 followers
April 14, 2021
“The problem with the dead was that they all wanted someone to listen to them.”

The Ghost bride's strength lies in its vivid settings, served by a lush imagery. It shines with its palpable atmosphere, with the fascinating descriptions of Malaysian culture and traditions. I fell in love with the evocative and compelling qualities of  Yangsze Choo's writing. Moreover, as I've mentioned in my weekly check-in, her narration is fantastic and suits the book perfectly - listening to Li Lan's story enhanced its out-of-the-world feel, and I adored that. 

So. What is The Ghost Bride about?

Set in Malaysia, at a time when British imperialism extended its claws over half the world, The Ghost Bride follows Li Lan, a seventeen years-old whose genteel family stands on the verge of bankruptcy. One day, Li Lan's debts-ridden father informs her that Tian Chiang, heir of the wealthy and powerful Lim family, has proposed. Only problem? He's a tool, and oh! He's dead. Li Lan is horrified, of course, even more so when he starts - literally - haunting her dreams, his tantrums becoming scarier and scarier. It doesn't help that she has convinced herself that she's in love with his cousin, and heir-to-be, who is very much alive (she doesn't. It's a childish infatuation, at best : her vision of love is overdramatic and immature but it never annoyed me - how can we be anything else than lenient and understanding, given her situation?). Tian Bai, the recipient of her "love", is perfectly nice, I suppose. Yet because he's so very bland, I could never care for him. I didn't mind, though. But I'll come back to this.

Riddled by nightmares and horror, Li Lan is desperate to get rid of her unwelcome suitor, even though her acceptance would mean her father's cancellation of debt. And who can blame her? Faced with mysteries and not knowing whom she can turn to and whom she can trust, she embarks in a dangerous journey, from her city of Malacca to the realms of the dead, where she'll have to navigate between ferocious foes and unexpected allies.

What about the pacing?

Almost all the reviews - even positive ones - I read complained about the middle and the slow pace but, I don't know, I never felt bored or even impatient. I'm pretty sure that's because the narrator's voice lulled me. Granted, there was a moment - the third wife, if you know, you know - when I felt a tiny bit confused about who was who BUT 1) it lasted a hot minute and 2) I was flowing. How could I mind, really?

HOWEVER. As I said, I've never felt bored and genuinely enjoyed the middle part as well but wow, the last part was something else entirely, I understand why readers have been raving about it. It!! Was!! Awesome!!! I couldn't listen fast enough, feeling so much - As Li Lan, I was SO angry, I was SEETHING *shivers* I was SO INVESTED, and the ending made me so happy, OKAY?

... And the romance?

Before I finish, I wanted to add a few words about the romance aspect of the novel and Li Lan's love interest(s) in particular - yes, there's a plural there. If I can understand the sentiment - truly, I do - for once I didn't share this particular complaint. First, Tian Bai and Li Lan. Their "romance" plays such a tiny place in the book, all things considered. Sure, Li Lan thinks about him, but their scenes are very rare, and you know, what I loved the most about her is the way she evolves throughout the story. When the situation demands it, she grows, and I was 100% here for that - there's something so satisfying in a coming of age story, don't you think? There's a love-triangle of sorts, but for once I genuinely enjoyed it, especially because *cough* I very much enjoyed Er Lang's character and all of their scenes together *cough*.... and that's all I'll say about it.

Bottom line : The Ghost Bride is not a perfect book, maybe, but it was perfect for me. I've talked about my "professional" rating system in my review for Sorcery of Thorns *cough* don't mention it *cough* and it was again a great help here, but there's something else I took into account when I decided on my rating : will I reread this book? Absolutely. I will, oh so gladly. Had I not listen to it, perhaps I wouldn't have rounded-up my rating, but the stellar performance of the author in the audiobook made it impossible for me not to. In the end, I'm writing reviews to shout into the wind the names of the books that touch me, enchant me, in the hope that someone will listen. Can you hear me now?

CW - fatphobia, sexual harassment, death

For more of my reviews, please visit :
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews585 followers
September 4, 2018
Library ebook....

It seems two or three times a year I must read a tale that journeys me into the Asian afterlife...the Asian History...the culture....and the family at hand.

I enjoy other Asian books by authors Lisa See, Janie Chang, Alice Poon, Tan Twan Eng, and others.

This is my first novel by Yangsze Choo. She grew up in Malaysia...and is a 4th generation Malaysian of Chinese descent. She received her undergraduate degree at Harvard....and I’m thrilled to learn she is living here in the Bay Area ( with her family and several chickens).
I have an advance copy of her new book “The Night Tiger”, which I also look forward to reading soon.

Back to “The Ghost Bride”.......
The wealthy Lim family approached Li Lan’s father about a ghost marriage. Li Lin was 18. Her mother died when she was a child.
The Lim family was one of the wealthiest in their town of Malacca.....( later known as Malaysia). Malacca was a port, one of the oldest trading settlements in the east.
In the past few hundred years it had passed through Portuguese, Dutch, and finally British rule.....during the 1800’s.

Recently the Lim’s family son died...a young man named Lim Tian Ching. It wasn’t a ‘normal’ practice to marry the LIVING to the DEAD. It was rare.....but usually held in order to placate a spirit.

Li Lan’s father was addicted to opium. He was withdrawn and bankrupt. She spends a lot of her time with her nursemaid Amah ( almost like an ‘acting’ mother)...but what I found interesting was that Li Lan’s father and Amah had very different ways of thinking. Amah was a shrewd & superstitious woman. She didn’t find the old customs and traditions a joke like her father did. times Li Lan didn’t know what ‘she’ believed.
Li Lan seemed very frail to me - not strong. I liked her but she didn’t have much inner strength of who she was for a long time. She cried constantly- at ‘every’ juncture. Cried ... and cried... and cried!
..... when Lim Tian Ching began haunting her
......when she learned of Tian Bai’s arrange marriage...
......and when she was disembodied and wandering the streets of Malacca.

Li Lan ‘becomes’ a stronger heroine .....but not until she overdosed on some medicine that puts her in a coma that takes her into the spirit underworld. She becomes a ghost herself. ( I know sounds corny)....but it’s here where we begin to see her strength and bravery. She meets deity Er Lang.....and together they uncover corruption—- a twisty gripping intense story kicks in.

Love is found in all the unexpected places to boot!

The atmosphere in this novel is captivating and lovely. Some scenes are ghostly creepy. Being transported into a dreamworld adds that magical fantasy element.

This was an intriguing tale based on ancient Chinese myths. In the back of the book the author explains some of the Chinese myths....which for me adds to the appreciation of the entire mystical experience between the living and the dead.

Utterly original.....beautiful prose...and the story had me wanting to know what was going to happen next.
Profile Image for Haze.
559 reviews46 followers
December 8, 2016
I am a Chinese Malaysian, born about a hundred years after the period this story takes place, and even I, jaded as I am about the state Malaysian is in now, find The Ghost Bride fascinating.

It's interesting to remember how people lived back then, before Malaysia was Malaysia, when it was still Malaya and under the British rule, how the various immigrants and cultures intersect.

What I enjoyed most is imagining how this story could've very well been my own family's story. Not the ghost bride part, of course. It is a rare occurrence in itself, but I believe by the time my own grandfather migrated to Malaysia, the practice of marrying a living person to a dead one had all but disappeared. I have heard of a recent case of a marriage between a dead Chinese couple though.

No, what I could imagine was the family intrigue, the head of the house with his many wives and concubines, the many children spawned between the wives and concubines, the family politics as the wives and children all try to win their husband/father's favor. The competition between the wives to produce a male heir, the hatred and jealousy between each wife and their children.

My own grandfather had three wives and a concubine. My father, the youngest son of the Second Wife, had 7 siblings by his own mother. I am not sure of how many children my grandfather had with his First and Third Wives, but there were many. His concubine produced one son.

Although I have heard many stories about my father's childhood, this book really brought to life my imagination of how my grandfather and his family lived, and I assure you, it was a lot more dramatic and quite frankly, uglier, than the family dynamics in the book. My uncle's second wife actually chased my mother around the house with a kitchen knife.

However, let's get back to the book; I loved the whole Ghost Bride theme, Yangsze Choo's depiction of the Chinese's beliefs about the different levels of Hell and burning offerings to the dead ancestors. I love how Choo brought the ghost dimension, the Plains of the Dead, and all the other ghostly denizens to life (no pun intended).

It felt a little bit like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and is written just as well as Neverwhere was, perhaps even better. But I might be biased. However, Neverwhere is one of my favorite Gaiman books, and this is me giving really high praise to The Ghost Bride. I can't recommend this book enough.

It's amazing and I loved it.
Profile Image for Brittney ~ Reverie and Ink.
261 reviews4,943 followers
August 10, 2021
Oh, oh my. The ending left me breathless. I loved this so much.

Okay, so I'm going to keep this short and without a personal recap or summary. Let me tell you what I loved: the writing (lovely), the mystery + mythology, ER LANG AND ALL HIS SCENES, and pretty much the entire beginning, where Li Lan is thrust into the mystery of Tian Ching, what happened to him, and how she's going to get rid of his ghost. Unlike the tv show (not impressed, Netflix), Li Lan herself goes into a kind of coma and must figure out how to return to her living body.

I did struggle with the middle portion of this book, but it didn't take away my love for the characters or the story. I think I missed some key information (my fault?), and I felt like I was wandering around in the dark more so than Li Lan herself.
That's where I got lost. I couldn't figure out what all her goals were and why some of the stragglers we meet along the way mattered. I just wasn't following.

BUT. Er Lang entered, and I'd already heard so much about him, so I had to keep reading. And oh, I am so glad I did. Once her goals became clearer and the mystery with Er Lang deepened, I was hooked. I loved everything about their interactions and banter.

SoooOOooo if you love mystery, romance, beautiful prose and EXTREMELY satisfying endings, please pick up this gorgeous book.

Legit, the last line gave me the best kind of chills. The best kind.

Ps. Visit me on Instagram @reverieandink!
Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
580 reviews4,062 followers
March 16, 2021
Una decepción porque el libro tiene un arranque genial y una ambientación fascinante (la Malasia del siglo XIX) con ese mundo de fantasmas y ritos de la China clásica, pero más o menos hacia la mitad la trama se estanca y terminó por aburrirme enormemente. Es de estos libros que tienes que esforzarte por acabar porque no te importa nada lo que pase con los personajes (al menos eso me pasó a mi).
Creo que si hubiera tenido 200 páginas menos me hubiera encantado, pero ese ir y venir de la protagonista sin sentido, y el hecho de que ningún protagonista tuviera un mínimo de carisma (por no hablar del triángulo amoroso... uf) consiguieron hartarme.
Lo mejor, repito, la ambientación.
Profile Image for Nicole~.
198 reviews252 followers
September 1, 2016
I see dead people....

Li Lan, the motherless Chinese maiden, whose opium-addicted father has betrothed her to the deceased son of a wealthy family, accidentally finds herself roaming the Plains of the Dead - a terrifying afterworld where ghosts wait around to be judged, punished or reborn to new lives.
 photo fda52b23-625a-4740-8e34-6021b0c1879a_zps97b30f0b.jpg

Within the ghost world, she embarks on a supernatural adventure, filled with highly imaginative, colorful characters including horned demons, corrupt judges and shape-shifting otherwordly beings.

What is it about this ghost world that seemed to create uncanny parallels with the living? Indeed!

Yangsze Choo has created hauntingly fantastic worlds of the living and dead. All the elements that have fascinated me in Chinese folklore and mythology are in this novel- traditional Chinese rituals, superstitions, the ominous afterlife, fabled creatures and the portended judgement day. A spellbinding tale that is, at once, mysterious, suspenseful, romantic and otherworldly intriguing.Recommended for the readers who like that type of thing.
Profile Image for Alice Poon.
Author 5 books279 followers
July 5, 2022
An enthralling story about the afterlife in Chinese myths, with unexpected twists and turns, though in some places it dragged a little and in others the sensibilities a tad too modern. The writing was vivid and evocative.

I'm giving this novel 4.3 stars.
Profile Image for Margot.
3 reviews3 followers
December 4, 2013
This was a beautifully written and touching novel. Fans of Peony in Love or Hayao Miyazaki's film Spirited Away will not be disappointed. The heroine of this story grows from a demure and spoiled girl into a confident and courageous woman. The world that Yangsze Choo creates is fantastic, more so because they reflect actual beliefs about the afterlife. This book has romance, terror, adventure and even some humor thrown in too. Ghost Bride earned every one of its stars
Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
815 reviews614 followers
August 6, 2019
"The problem with the dead was that they all wanted someone to listen to them."

Now, I wouldn't have thought this was my sort of read at all, but it shows how wrong you can be.

More than what I was expecting as I knew there would be the fantastic and paranormal,this was also a (somewhat tepid) romance and a murder mystery. Ms Choo's use of evocative language is assured - quite amazing that this book was a debut. Ms Choo allows us to pick delicately through Li Lan's complicated beliefs - every bit as complicated as life in nineteenth century Malaya would be. I just accepted everything I was shown.

Quite wonderful. I'm only knocking half a star off, because in the middle it dragged a bit & because I guessed the two twists quite easily.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,585 followers
September 3, 2020
Exceedingly enjoyable fantasy novel set in the Chinese community of historical Malaya, where Li Lin's down-on-his-luck father proposes she become a ghost bride, ie marry a dead guy so he can have a wife in the afterlife. This spools out into a murder mystery, plus a fantasy rooted in Chinese myth and folklore and funereal beliefs, plus a romance that doesn't go where you initially think, but definitely goes to the right place. Our heroine is a bit wet at first but shines up her spine as the book develops, and the setting is vivid and really creepy at points. Very good fun.
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,532 reviews9 followers
August 8, 2015
The first chapters of The Ghost Bride had me hooked. I have always enjoyed reading about Asian families, Asian history and culture. The audio is narrated quite beautifully by the author, and it was very calming to listen to her as the atmosphere and characters were formed.

Then the dream sequences began and an endless journey into an underground spirit world. I came off that hook I was attached to real fast, as new character after new character was introduced and the storyline went off into fantasies and confusing subplots that I wanted no part of.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books466 followers
February 6, 2022
“The problem with the dead was that they all wanted someone to listen to them.”

So What’s It About?

Li Lan is the daughter of a poor opium-addicted scholar in the British colony of Malaya. She has woefully limited prospects until a strange offer comes: the wealthy Lim family wants her to be a ghost bride for the family’s son who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Soon Li Lan starts to become haunted by the odious dead son, making nightly trips to the Chinese afterlife. When she becomes trapped there it will take all of her willpower and resourcefulness to survive and return to life.

CW for sexual violence

What I Thought)

I started this year’s Spookening with The Ghost Bride and the first thing that I have to say is that while I’ll probably be complaining a lot in this review I do have to say that I think this is simply a very, very well-written and enjoyable book. It was an absolute pleasure to read and even as I found the critical part of my mind noticing things that could have been different I still appreciated every minute of reading it.

I think the real star of the show is the beautifully written and inventive depiction of the Chinese afterlife. The different spirits are all incredibly interesting and I loved spending snippets of time coming to know their stories as well as seeing the strange qualities and properties of the afterlife. Li Lan has a lot of learning to do when she enters the afterlife and I learned right along with her, coming to understand the fickle rules that ghosts must abide by and the strange and ethereal nature of the world of ghosts. The world of the living is just as well written as I also loved Choo’s attention to historical detail. Colonial Malaya is meticulously realized and beautifully described with rich touches:

“Steamed pomfret, the silvery sides of the fish veiled in soy sauce and shallot oil. Fried pigeons. Tender strips of jellyfish quivered under a sprinkling of sesame seeds; and I was delighted to see my favorite kerabu, a dish of fiddlehead ferns dressed with shallots, chilies, and tiny dried shrimp in coconut milk.“

I will say, however, that I’m not particularly fond of Li Lan as a protagonist, simply because she just doesn’t do much by herself. In the start of the story she learns to take care of herself in the spirit world and I really appreciated how resourceful she was. I wish the story would continue that way but as it progresses she seems o rely more and more on other people to tell her what to do and get her out of scrape after scrape. Er Lang rescues her 5 times by my count at the end of the book and even though she spends the book trying to discover who the murderer is she only ever has a vague suspicion. She simply approaches the person she vaguely suspects and is like “Hey…did you do it?” and then the murderer inexplicably confesses to her.

I think my irritation with Er Lang’s continual rescues also has to do with how generally annoying I found him to be. There’s something of a love triangle in this book and ultimately Li Lan realizes that her feelings for Tian Bai are simply a kind of impetuous puppy love because she doesn’t really know him but my problem with this is that she ends up with Er Lang instead, but I don’t really feel like she knows him any better. It just turns out that he’s stunningly attractive and also we learn that he’s really great with his tongue so #goals. Not to dismiss the importance of tongue action but it’s kind of hard for me to care about that when he’s saying patronizing things like this constantly:

“Self-control is a quality I’ve always admired. Especially in a woman.”

“For a young woman, you seem to have a rare gift for silence.”

“You really are naive. It’s rather sweet, in a way.”

So yeah, it’s one of those romances. Of course Er Lang looks like a straight up woke king in comparison to all the lecherous men in the afterlife who are constantly drooling and pawing after Li Lan and talking about putting her to work in the bedroom, which…yeah. It’d definitely be interesting to explore the story’s backdrop subjection of women a little bit more but as it was I felt like it was kind of just There.

One way that Choo might have done this could have been to flesh out the stories of the other women Li Lan meets but nearly of them beyond her mother and Amah are simply condemned because they’re beautiful women who are largely characterized by that beauty and their sexuality. You have the woman who Li Lan thinks is her mother, the Third Concubine and Fan who all fit this mold. On one hand they’re clearly not good people at all and that’s fine, but I do question the decision to make all of them vapid, nasty and cruel women who also happen to be beautiful and characterized heavily in terms of their sexuality.

I particularly felt for the Third Concubine – this young girl was discarded like trash by the man she loved and forced to be a stranger’s concubine while she watched the man who deserted her fall in love and be blissfully happy with another woman. Nothing could justify what she did to Li Lan’s mother but at the same time I wish that her story had been explored in more detail because it could have been incredibly powerful and interesting.

Even thought I didn't really care for the central romance I'll confess that I thought the ending was perfectly lovely. I know there's a Netflix adaptation of this book and I enjoyed it more than enough to look forward to watching it too!
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,893 followers
July 8, 2020
While this started promisingly and evocatively, it quickly devolved into an overly drawn-out, languorous, tepid fable, and I progressively ceased to care about any of its characters or about what would happen to them. The first-person voice is incredibly devoid of spark or personality, and while aspects of the settings (both 19th-century Malaya and the spirit world) are interesting, I need far more than trappings to compel me to care about what’s occurring in those settings.

I had high hopes for this, but am ending up quite disappointed by it.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,969 reviews1,985 followers
July 23, 2021
I really enjoyed this strange, off-kilter magical realist tale of the role of women in traditional cultures: Necessary, but might as well be dead for all the respect they're paid. Until they're necessary. Then, once the problem is solved, status quo ante. Unless you're Li Lan....

Big plus for the gloriously weird Chinese afterlife painted by Choo's ghost bride, Li Lan. Her, well, matter-of-factness in the face of goins-on that'd make me feel I was insane was pitch-perfect and the sheer gonzo "right, this is what I'm doing and this is where we are so just deal with it suckas" prose...modulated heaven to read. All those traps of OTT verbiage that frequently sink books presenting "exotic" cultures to non-native audiences are simply ignored.

One thing I'm not too big on is the patness of the ending. The Big Reveal was curiously flat for me, lacking as it did a sense of organic development from Li Lan's adventures. But it's clearly not a deal breaker, look at those four shiny stars.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me a review copy.
Profile Image for Andrea Ashwood.
142 reviews50 followers
March 25, 2020
[Reseña en Español - English Review]


“Estaba enfadada, desesperada, y ya no me importaba nada. Pero realmente no creo que mi intención fuera morir.”

La Novia Fantasma es uno de esos libros que no me hubiera esperado que me enganchara tanto.
Ha sido una lectura totalmente adictiva, siempre necesitaba saber más sobre Li Lan.
Por no hablar de la magia de Yangsze Choo. Pocos autores (en mi experiencia) consiguen el efecto del final del capítulo, ese último párrafo o últimas líneas de un capítulo que te provocan tal intriga que tienes que saber qué es lo que va a pasar.
Literalmente, me leí casi 300 páginas del tirón.

Malasia, 1893.
Li Lan, es la descendiente más joven de una gran familia de apellido reconocido. En el pasado su familia era muy rica, pero ahora gran parte de su capital y negocios se han perdido por el camino.
La muerte de la madre de Li provocó tal luto en la familia que su padre dejó de interesarse en nada más que no fuera su pipa de opio.
Y así pasa el tiempo, hasta que la edad de la joven Li Lan se considera la adecuada para casarse en la época. Pero su padre no ha estado lo suficientemente atento al futuro de su hija, y ha transcurrido tanto tiempo que apenas hay familias a las que les interese un matrimonio entre sus hijos y Li Lan.

"Las horas, días y años que se habían desvanecido en su neblina de opio exigieron un pago por mi futuro."
Hasta que un día la petición de matrimonio del hijo de una de las familias más ricas de Malaca llega a su hogar, el problema es que el joven con el que proponen casar a Li murió hace un año en extrañas circunstancias.
"Esta práctica de organizar el matrimonio de una persona muerta era poco común, generalmente sostenida para aplacar un espíritu. Una concubina fallecida que había tenido un hijo podría casarse oficialmente para elevar su estatus a esposa. O dos amantes que murieron trágicamente podrían unirse después de la muerte. Eso lo sabía. Pero casar a los vivos con los muertos era algo raro y, de hecho, horrible."
Indignada por la irresponsabilidad de su padre y confundida por la petición de matrimonio de la familia Lim para convertirse en la novia fantasma de su fallecido hijo Lim Tian Ching, Li Lan se desespera ante la idea de no tener el futuro que ella soñaba.

El señor Lim invita a la familia de Li Lan a su mansión.
Allí ella conoce a un joven interesante por el que hubiera vendido su alma por haber conocido antes.
Pero en la mansión Lim nada es lo que parece, y el espíritu de su fallecido heredero ronda entre las paredes de esa casa, incluso en los sueños de sus habitantes. Y ahora también en los sueños de Li Lan.

Atemorizada, evita caer rendida y no dormir, pero es inevitable y Lim Tian Ching la espera en sus sueños.

Una serie de malas decisiones conducen a la joven Li a arriesgar demasiado con tal de huir de su acosador en sueños, pero acaba arriesgando lo más valioso que tiene, su vida.
Atrapada en el mundo entre la vida, lo espiritual y la muerte, Li Lan deberá de aventurarse en las tierras de los muertos y encontrar una salida con ayuda de un personaje misterioso, ya que cuanto más tiempo transcurra menos posibilidades tendrá de volver a la vida de nuevo.
Lo que menos esperaba era acabar en el mismo paraje inhóspito en el que se encuentra Lim Tian Ching, la razón por la que ella está en el limbo espiritual, y que ahora que sabe que se encuentra en su mismo mundo no parará hasta encontrarla.

Li deberá ser muy cuidadosa, muchos secretos están a punto de revelarse, relacionados con su família y los Lim. Si no mide sus acciones, sus actos se verán reflejados en el mundo de los vivos.
"Porque, cuando el ciclo de violencia escapa de sus confines en el infierno, provoca terremotos, riadas y otras calamidades en el mundo de los vivos."

**¡Gracias a la editorial por enviarme un ejemplar anticipado a cambio de una reseña honesta!**

“I was angry, desperate, and I didn't care about anything anymore. But I really don't think my intention was to die.”

The Ghost Bride is one of those books that I wouldn't have expected to get so caught up.
It has been a totally addictive read, I always needed to know more about Li Lan.
Not to mention the magic of Yangsze Choo. Few authors (in my experience) get the effect of the end of the chapter, that last paragraph or last lines of a chapter that make you so intrigued so you have to know what is going to happen.
I literally read almost 300 pages at a stretch.

Malaysia, 1893.
Li Lan is the youngest descendant of a good family with a recognized surname. In the past his family was very rich, but now much of his capital and business have been lost over time.
The death of Li's mother caused such mourning in the family that his father ceased to be interested in anything other than his opium pipe.
And so time passes, until the age of the young Li Lan is considered the perfect one to marry at the time. But her father hasn't been attentive enough to his daughter's future, and so much time has passed that there are hardly any families interested in a marriage between their sons and Li Lan.

"The hours, days, and years that had bled away in his opium haze demanded a payment from my future.."
Until one day, the marriage petition of the son of one of the richest families in Malacca comes to their door, the problem is that the young man they propose to marry Li died a year ago under strange circumstances.
"This practice of arranging the marriage of a dead person was uncommon, usually held in order to placate a spirit. A deceased concubine who had produced a son might be officially married to elevate her status to a wife. Or two lovers who died tragically might be united after death. That much I knew. But to marry the living to the dead was a rare and, indeed, dreadful occurrence."
Outraged by her father's irresponsibility and confused by the Lim family's marriage petition to become the ghost bride of their deceased son Lim Tian Ching, Li Lan despairs at the thought of not having the future she dreamed of.

Mr. Lim invites Li Lan's family to his mansion.
There she meets an interesting young man for whom she would have sold her soul for having met before.
But in the Lim mansion nothing is what it seems, and the spirit of his deceased heir hangs around the walls of that house, even in the dreams of its inhabitants. And now also in Li Lan's dreams.

Frightened, she avoids falling exhausted and not sleeping, but it is inevitable and Lim Tian Ching awaits her in her dreams.

A series of bad decisions lead young Li to risk too much in order to flee her dream stalker, but she ends up risking the most valuable thing she has, her life.
Trapped in the world between life, the spiritual and death, Li Lan must venture into the land of the dead and find a way out with the help of a mysterious character, because the more time passes, the less chance she will come back to life.
What she least expected was to end up in the same inhospitable place that Lim Tian Ching is in, the reason why she is in spiritual limbo, and that now that he knows that she is in the same world, he won't stop until finds her.

Li will have to be very careful, many secrets are about to be revealed, related to her family and the Lim. If she doesn’t measure her movements, her actions will be reflected in the world of the living.
"For when the cycle of violence escapes its confines in hell, it causes earthquakes, floods, and other calamities."

**I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.**
Profile Image for luce (that loser crying on the n° 2 bus).
1,436 reviews4,036 followers
June 14, 2023
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“It seemed to me that in this confluence of cultures, we had acquired one another’s superstitions without necessarily any of their comforts.”

A few years back I read and was positutely grossed out by Yangsze Choo’s The Night Tiger as I found its male love interest to be both a perv & bully. Thankfully, Yangsze Choo gives less page time to its love interest(s), as the story is more focused on Li Lan having to navigate the Chinese afterlife.

“The town of Malacca was very still, dreaming under the tropical sun of its past glories, when it was the pearl of port cities along the Straits.”

The first few chapters are certainly compelling as Choo immerses her readers in colonial Malaysia and brings to life Malacca and Li Lan’s household. Despite her family’s good standing in society, her father’s fall into financial ruin and opioid addiction throw Li Lan’s future in jeopardy.

“The hours, days, and years that had bled away in his opium haze demanded a payment from my future.”

Li Lan’s father then receives a peculiar offer: a well-off and influential family, the Lim, wants Li Lan to become the ghost bride of Tian Ching, the family’s recently deceased male heir. Rarely practiced, ghost marriages seek to soothe restless spirits or to fulfill promises. Li Lan does not take this offer seriously, yet, when she is invited to the Lim mansion she finds herself growing intrigued by this powerful family, in particular Tian Ching’s cousin, Tian Bai. Li Lan’s blossoming feelings for him lead her to believe that their two families might eventually come to arrange a marriage between them, especially when she learns that the Lim patriarch is a friend of her father and that her mother was related to Madame Lim.
Things however do not go Li Lan’s way as the Lim seem intent on making her Tian Ching’s ghost bride. Worse, Tian Ching begins to haunt her and her household, invading her dreams, and insisting on their union.

A grave oversight severs Li Lan from her physical self, and she is left in a state of in-between. To return to the land of the living she has to contend with the ghost cities of the Chinese afterlife. She soon learns that the afterlife is as corrupt as the real-life world. To return to ‘life’, Li Lan has to hide the fact that she is not a ghost, face the afterlife’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy, and escape the notice of demons and Tian Ching, who is supported by his other dead relatives. She finds herself aided by a helpful spirit.

“[T]o marry the living to the dead was a rare and, indeed, dreadful occurrence.”

I genuinely thought that this book would be about Li Lan becoming a ghost bride, but she never does. Her would-be ghost husband is a bratty and frankly pitiful villain. Most of the story takes place in the afterlife, which is a pity as I would have liked more of a back-and-forth between these two worlds, especially given that once Li Lan is trapped in the ghost realm, she is cut off from her Amah, whose presence provided much needed female solidarity. When it comes to the ghost cities and the afterlife the world-building felt surprisingly weak. The ghosts and spirits Li Lan encounter there should have been fascinating and mysterious but at times I forgot that she was not in the real world given how mundane it all felt. This may have been the point, to emphasize how powerful people there are exploiting others or using their wealth to keep living the life they did in the mortal realm…but it just didn’t make for an entertaining reading experience. The Lim family wasn’t that interesting either, which is a pity as the narrative plays out in a way that makes you think that they are much more villainous or powerful than they are. Li Lan’s love interests were painfully dull, one was a complete case of insta love the other seemed a rip-off of Spirited Away. The conceit here, of a mortal trapped in the spirit realm, has been done before and better. From Ghibli’s take to YA books like The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea (which was actually published more recently than this novel but hey ho i read that last year). I think the ghost bride premise combined with a murder mystery would have made for a much more captivating story. I could have also done without the cartoonishly mean/evil villains. It seems cheap to me to make bad characters be described as physically unattractive, or if they are beautiful then they are a cold type of beauty. I mean, it gives me Disney energy.
Li Lan's voice was rather generic, a light take on the (supposedly) 'spunky' heroine type of protagonist. Her relationship with her parents is sadly sidelined in favor of focusing on petty disagreements and her profoundly vanilla love triangle.

It's a pity that I wasn't able to love this as I was at first drawn to Choo's charming and humorous storytelling which brought to mind authors like Zen Cho and Diana Wynne Jones. Nevertheless, while Choo's afterlife may not have grabbed me all that much I did find her portrayal of colonial Malaysia insightful, as she is able to provide a lot of historical and cultural anecdotes and explanations. We are also made to understand the limitations experienced by women such as Li Lan at that time, and the dynamic between a patriarch's wives and off-springs.

If this happens to be on your tbr list I recommend you still give it a shot as YMMV.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,203 reviews3,184 followers
February 26, 2023
4.0 Stars
This was an entrancing ghost story set in historical Malaysia, under Chinese influence. At times more fantastical than horrifying, this story managed to keep a chilling atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed the cultural influences in this story, specifically those surrounding the traditions of ghost brides.

In terms of pace, this was fairly slow burning. The story is very character driven, yet the story never actually stands still. Other than one time in the middle, I didn't mind the pacing. I was overall very engrossed in this unique narrative.

I would highly recommend this book to readers looking for a beautiful, creepy story with some Eastern influences.
Profile Image for may ➹.
494 reviews2,056 followers
August 14, 2021
I took almost 2 weeks to read the first half of this and then 2 days for the last half…. clearly I am excellent at reading at a regular pace

short rtc
Profile Image for Dianne.
567 reviews931 followers
September 4, 2018
Interesting and imaginative fantasy about Li Lan, a 17-year-old girl living in Malaya (Malaysia) in 1893. Her mother has died and she lives with her opium-addicted father, her nursemaid Amah and several servants. Her father is deep in debt and proposes offering Li Lan to the wealthy Lim family as a "ghost bride" to their recently deceased only son, Lim Tian Ching. Li Lan is horrified at the idea of being a bride to a dead groom and refuses. The next day, an invitation comes from the Lim family, requesting Li Lan’s presence at a mahjong party. Such an honor cannot be refused, so Li Lan attends. While wandering around the Lim family’s mansion, she meets handsome Tian Bai, Lim Tian Ching’s cousin and heir to the Lim fortune, and falls in love with him. That night her dreams begin – dreams in which a vain and pompous Lim Tian Ching begins to court her in the surreal world of the dead. The disturbing dreams persist and Amah takes Li Lan to a medium, who offers her a strange mixture of powders to mix in water and drink before sleeping. The powders offer temporary relief from the dreams, but one night Li Lan dreams again that Lim Tian Ching comes to her. This time he tells Li Lan that Tian Bai is his murderer. Li Lan awakens to further bad news – Tian Bai is to be married. Distraught, Li Lan takes a generous amount of the mysterious powders to help her sleep – and slips into a coma and the afterworld.

The afterworld is where the majority of the story takes place – and this is where this book shines. The Chinese notions of the afterlife are woven with the author’s own supernatural inventions. There are hungry ghosts, dragons, demons, spirits and also quite a bureaucracy in the afterlife. The atmosphere created by the author is the real star here. I thought it was fascinating.

Recommend if you like historical fiction mixed with fantasy.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,778 reviews14.2k followers
July 30, 2013
This is probably not a book I should have read, I think it is brilliantly written and it is certainly about a little explored subject. The tone is almost dreamy, which is expected because so much of the book takes place in dreams. Which leads me to my problem with the book, I love learning about new cultures, so Malaysia as the country was enticing. It was just too much fantasy for me, too much of the dreaming and the dead. Just not my cup of tea, but I know others have loved and will love this book.
Profile Image for Repellent Boy.
502 reviews520 followers
October 7, 2019
Nuestra protagonista Li Lan vive una vida relativamente humilde, después de que su familia, anteriormente rica, haya ido perdiendo esta riqueza al pasar los años. Estamos a finales del siglo XIX en Malasia, época en la que no había mejor futuro para una mujer que concertar un buen matrimonio con algún hombre bien posicionado. A Li Lan no le va a resultar fácil, a causa de esa falta de buen posicionamiento. Todo esto dará un giro cuando reciba una propuesta de matrimonio de una de las familias más ricas de Malaca, la región donde viven. ¿Cuál es el problema? El novio acaba de morir, y existe cierta tradición, poco habitual, que permite la unión de una pareja, aunque uno de ellos dos este muerto.

Esta es la sinopsis, no desvelo nada de la trama. El caso es que el libro empieza pareciendo ir por un camino y acaba yendo por otro. No quiero entrar en detalles, para que no sé sepa bien porque camino va la trama, pero me ha gustado ver un personaje femenino que pasa de "damisela en apuros" a mujer fuerte que toma sus propias decisiones. Ha sido mi parte favorita.

También he disfrutado mucho aprendiendo cosas de la cultura malaya, el gran mestizaje que hay con China, tanto que se crean hasta nuevas tradiciones y supersticiones. Y son estas supersticiones una parte fundamental de la historia, y la he disfrutado muchísimo. También vemos, aunque más sútilmente el choque de cultura con Occidente, ya que Malasia perteneció a Reino Unido hasta hace apenas unos 70 años.

Para colmo, el final ma ha encantado. Sobre todo por encontrarlo tremendamente atípico en este tipo de novelas. Se nota que está escrita en 2013, y si llega a ser de hace más tiempo hubiera terminado de forma totalmente diferente.

En definitiva, es de esos libros que además de aportarte una trama entretenida y disfrutable, te dan conocimientos en cuanto a otras culturas, que al menos para mí, son fascinantes.

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