the ghost bride, by yangsze choo

The Ghost Bride is  debut author Choo’s stand-alone novel about the plight of a young girl in 19th century China. Li Lan is the daughter of a once wealthy and revered family. However, after her mother’s death, her father sinks into a depressive state that he combats by self-medicating with opium. While their financial status continues to deteriorate, Li Lan’s father is approached by the upstanding and well-to-do Lim family, who ask for his consent to have Li Lan marry their recently deceased son–thus becoming the bride of a ghost.

This curious and entertaining tale takes the reader on a journey through the small village of Melaka, as well as the Chinese spirit world. Billed as a romance novel, this story is equal parts mystery and fantasy with some underlying teenage love and angst mixed in. Though Li Lan and her suitors (yes there’s more than 1) are young, for the time period they are of age to marry–and though in her late teens, her time to become betrothed is slowly slipping away.

Not one for the fantasy/magic genre I was intrigued by the premise of this book. I read (or rather listened to the audiobook) because it was a selection by my book club. The majority of the tale is spent chronicling Li Lan’s travels through the spirit world and her interactions with various ghosts–and there are quite a few. I am admittedly biased because I find the twists and turns of ghosts, demons, magical powers, and spirits hard to keep up with, thus making my enjoyment of a book more work than fun.

However, ghosts and goblins aside, the plot is an interesting one and marrying the dead is a practice that actually used to occur. Li Lan and her devoted servant, who also guides her through the behavior of a proper lady and superstitious beliefs, have more of a mother-daughter relationship which gives the book an endearing quality. And Li Lan’s suitors range from evil and stubborn, to mild-mannered, to mysterious and amusing.

I enjoyed the portions of the book that were spent in the real world as opposed to the after-life. Overall, this was definitely off the beaten path of what’s considered a romance novel. If you’re looking for something a little different and enjoyed books like Geisha Girl or Snowflower and the Secret Fan, then definitely check this out.