The Ghost Bride by Yangze Choo
The Ghost Bride
"One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride..."
Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.
Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family's only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.
After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim's handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family's darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.
The Ghost Bride was my one book club read for this month. It was an okay read, but not really that great of a read. The author really missed the mark I think. While reading I kept thinking if this were changed slightly, just slightly, it would be an amazing children's story. Or even a series. The adventures of Lin Lan in the living and the dead! Done. Perfect. It would have worked. For an adult novel? Not so much. The writing was too simplistic. Nothing was developed enough. A lot of the time I just found myself picturing this story being read to a schoolroom full of children and their reactions to things. For example:
"Speculating anew whether Er Lang hid a pouting face of a fish beneath his hat, or more frighteningly, the head of a great serpent."
I can just see this as a picture book and the teacher holding it up and the kids all being eeww! Snake head or something. Or some of them thinking it was cool or whatever. It just was like am I supposed to really be frightened by the idea of a guy with a serpent head? As a child, sure, as an adult? Not really. Most of the book was like this for me. So it missed the mark.
The other major issue for me? Too much telling not enough showing. Like the dreams Lin Lan had. Right from the first moment they were terrifying, but I am not sure why. It wasn't really written like it was a scary place, but Lin Lan was just kept saying how terrifying it was. So it just didn't work. If you are going to tell me someplace is creepy you have to set it up as creepy. If it is terrifying you need to make it terrifying. Just telling me it is doesn't make it so.
There is also a lot of forced foreshadowing which drove me crazy. It didn't work in the confines of the story. Lin Lan was also incredibly stupid. If she would have been a younger character (again think children's book heroine) it would have worked, but as it was I just felt like she acted way younger than she was. She kept saying things like something told me I shouldn't do this, that this would be really bad, but I did it anyways. Again and again and again.
I did really like the idea behind the story. The whole world of the dead with the paper offerings that were burned for them was fascinating. I didn't know anything about that prior to this book and it made me want to learn more. Such a cool idea, I just wish it would have been executed better. At times it felt like the author didn't know where she was going with the story or what she wanted from it. It felt almost like she was trying to include everything, but it just didn't work. There is supposed to be a romantic element, but that was largely missing. Sure the people were there, but there wasn't really any romance. If it would have been taken out it would have been the exact same story. Everything that happens at the end with the romance aspect? It was just like wait, why did you do this? It didn't make much sense, but I didn't really care that much by that point. I wish it were a picture book for kids that would be turned into a series. I would read them. I would love more about the world of the dead and the paper people and stuff. That would be fun. This just wasn't written as a good book for adults in my opinion.
Rating: ★ ★