The Ghost Bride Review: A gorgeous debut historical fantasy novel from Yangsze Choo.

the ghost bride cover

With one of the best literary heroines I have read in the past few years, The Ghost Bride spins its magic from start to finish. Not one dull moment and never a break from the stellar 19th-century Malaysian atmosphere created. In short, the Ghost Bride is undoubtedly one of the most romantic books you can read this year.

However, while the story is magical and ornately fascinating, it is the richness of the setting that becomes the true character of the book.

The Story

Debut author, Yangsze Choo, writes with a seemingly much more experienced hand. She weaves the tale like the magic of an oral folklorist of old, transporting the reader into the world of Chinese folklore. 

The story follows Li Lan, a motherless young woman asked by a wealthy family in town to marry their dead son. They ask her because he held feelings for her while alive. The rare practice would offer her a comfortable home for life but would also prevent her from experiencing real love.

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Soon, the obsessed ghost of this son begins haunting Li Lan in her dreams (or nightmares). Desperate to free herself from him, Li Lan does something rash landing her in the afterlife (or Chinese world of the dead). There, she must avoid demons looking for her, spiteful spirits, evil political men and women with their agendas, and the young man of the wealthy Lim family wishing to marry her.

Li Lan then begins her quest to return home. She discovers the dark secrets of the Lim family in the process, including the murderer of her would-be fiancée, Lim Tian Ching. Er Lang, her protector and guide, helps her while also seeking her help in uncovering a sinister plot with entertaining flirtations along the way.

Historical Setting

While the story is magical and ornately fascinating, it is the richness of the setting that becomes the real character of the book. Set in 19th century Malaysia (then called Malaya), Choo describes it with beautiful prose inviting you into the foreign land. It’s easy to imagine because she is such a visual writer.

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The research put into the setting is immaculate; the historical background also impeccable in detail. The fantastical setting of the afterlife, or The Plains of the Dead, is as rich as Neverland or even Wonderland.

Characters

Li Lan, a product of place and time, never loses who she is to modern writing. She is a courageous and brave heroine. Still, Li Lan also remains faithful to a 19th-century woman living in Malaya during British colonial rule. Li Lan makes for a remarkable female character as she comes of age and discovers her identity, falling in love along the way.

The other characters do not disappoint; no characterization pushed to the wayside from the mysterious Er Lang (my particular favorite) to even the despised Lim Tian Ching. The love story is also beautiful to read because it is unexpected and unique. I won’t spoil it for the readers, but as Li Lan gets pulled more and more into the supernatural, the more interesting her complicated love life gets.

Overall Impression

Whatever you do, this is a story you need to go out to your nearest bookstore (even online shopping store of choice) or public library and pick up this book immediately.

If you love literary fiction, paranormal romance, historical dramas with complex class systems (as seen in say Jane Austen), then go and do yourself a favor and read The Ghost Bride from one of fiction’s best new debut writers. You won’t regret it.

Adaptation Recommendation

This book is meant to be a film because the setting is so visual. With nothing out there like this in cinemas at the moment, it would be wonderful to see this adapted for the big screen, a kind of Alice in Wonderland set in Malaysia. The romantic backdrop would just be the cherry on top.

Have you read The Ghost Bride? Do you agree with my review of The Ghost Bride? Leave a comment below.

Book Information:

Page Count: 368 pages

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Chinese Folklore, Paranormal, Mystery.

Publisher: William Morrow

Buy at: Amazon

OVERALL RATING
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
ROMANCE RATING
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. I have loved none but you.”
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