The Ghost Bride is a historical fantasy novel set in a Malaya ruled by the British Empire. Li Lan is a member of the Chinese community there, the daughter of a once prosperous and respected man, who has become bankrupt following the death of his wife. Life seems to hold few opportunities for Li Lan until she learns of an offer to become a ghost bride, the wife of the dead son of the wealthy Lim family. At first she is horrified, but the more she learns about the family and the circumstances surrounding the death of Lim Tian Ching, the more she is drawn into the mystery of the household. Soon she finds herself exploring the spirit world of Malaya, guided by the enigmatic Er Lang, in a quest to find out what really happened and why she has been selected as a ghost bride, before she is trapped forever in the shadowy after-life.
I started The Ghost Bride expecting it to be mainly historical fiction, so the amount of fantasy in the novel surprised me. But in a good way. Choo has taken Chinese beliefs about the afterlife and used them to create a fascinating, fully formed fantasy world that is the unreserved star of the show. I just loved the blending of fantasy with traditional beliefs, it lent an authenticity to the whole book. I'm always on the look out for fantasy that isn't set in medieval Europe, and with this book I stumbled across a great example of it accidentally.
Another thing I enjoyed about The Ghost Bride was the character of Li Lan herself. She starts off as quite shy and easily led by both her family and the Lim family, but as the book progresses we get to see some strong character development, culminating in an episode towards the end where she's in quite a sticky situation. Rather than hope for someone to come and save her, she's determined to sort things out herself, which I really liked. It would have been easy for Choo to write a passive female, especially considering that Er Lang is technically supernatural, so I liked that she made Li Lan stick up for herself as the book went on.
This book does contain a love triangle, but thankfully the romance elements are very light and take a back-seat to the adventure and the exploration of the afterlife itself. I found The Ghost Bride easy to read but yet unlike anything else I've read, a book that I'm sure will stick with me for some time. Recommended for anyone who likes fantasy but is after something a bit different.
Source: Personal copy (kindle)
First Published: 2013
Score: 4 out of 5
If you're after more diverse fantasy, I've enjoyed the following (links to my reviews):
- Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed - Arabian Nights-esque high fantasy featuring ghuls and dervishes. Lots of fun.
- The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin - Proper epic fantasy inspired by Ancient Egypt. A man trained to enter the dreams of others comes up against the corruption of the government and priestly sects.
- Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson - The story of a young hacker in an Arabic country who discovers that there's more to reality than just what you can see.