One evening, my father asked me whether I would like to become a ghost bride. 'Asked' is perhaps not the right word. We were in his study. I was leafing through a newspaper, my father lying on his rattan daybed. It was very hot and still. The oil lamp was lit and moths fluttered through the humid air in lazy swirls. 'What did you say?' My father was smoking opium. It was his first pipe of the evening, so I presumed he was relatively lucid. My father, with his sad eyes and skin pitted like an apricot kernel, was a scholar of sorts. Our family used to be quite well off, but in recent years we had slipped until we were just hanging onto middle-class respectability. 'A ghost bride, Li Lan.' I held my breath as I turned a page. It was hard to tell when my father was joking. Sometimes I wasn't sure even he was entirely certain. He made light of serious matters, such as our dwindling income, claiming that he didn't mind wearing a threadbare shirt in this heat. But at other times, when the opium enveloped him in its hazy embrace, he was silent and distracted.
Published by Hot Key Books August 1st 2013
400 pages in paperback edition
Summary from Hot Key Books
Seventeen-year-old Li Lan lives in 1890s Malaya with her quietly-ruined father, who returns one evening with a proposition - the fabulously wealthy Lim family want Li Lan to marry their son. The only problem is, he's dead. After a fateful visit to the Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also her desire for the Lims' handsome new heir. At night she
is drawn into the Chinese afterlife - a world of ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, monstrous bureaucracy and vengeful spirits. Enlisting the help of mysterious Er Lang, Li Lan must uncover the secrets of the ghost world - before she becomes trapped there forever.
Reviewed by K.M .Lockwood from Kindle edition with US spellings and vocabulary such as cilantro for ‘coriander’
The Ghost Bride starts with a detailed and sensual evocation of 19th century Chinese Malaya. Indeed, the whole book is full of fascinating customs such as the airing of books at Double Seventh Festival and the burning of paper funeral goods to aid spirits in the afterlife. It’s told from the point of view of Li Lan – a seventeen year old girl fully expecting an arranged marriage. She gets something quite different.
This supernatural mystery story is more suited to the older YA and New Adult market than younger teens, I would suggest. Whilst there is nothing too explicit, the themes and the richly detailed world it explores might engage older readers more - including many adults.
It is ideal for readers who would enjoy exploring the complex beliefs and customs around death and the afterlife through the unravelling of a mystery. It is a kind of supernatural soap opera (in a good way). There is romance, murder, intrigue and even ghostly bureaucracy.
Most readers will learn a great deal and find the array of demons, ghosts and other eerie characters very intriguing. Without giving too much away, there is the possibility of further sorties into the complex realms of the Chinese afterlife. The storytelling is very sensual: I could imagine it as a fascinating graphic novel or even as an artistic animation.
In short, if you like a cross between a mystery and a ghost story with some romance for good measure, this could well suit you. If your taste is for an unusual historic setting shown in intricate detail as well, then The Ghost Bride should be just the read you’ll enjoy.