Admittedly, I know little about Chinese history and folklore. But fairy tales are universal, and The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo is infinitely magical. The story is set in the late 1800s in a British colonial town in Malaysia. Like many young women of the time, Li Lan’s only option is to get married. And usually, though the groom may not be the girl’s heartthrob, at least he’s human, right? But a ghost?
It would never occur to a Westerner to hitch themselves to a spirit, even if it meant financial security for life. Well, okay, maybe if you’re paying off a student loan… But Li Lan’s family is strapped, and the wealthy Lim family is in a position to get them out of their troubles—if only she agrees to pierce the veil in a creepy wedding ceremony.
The Ghost Bride is a heroic tale. And like other heroes’ journeys, the protagonist must change. Li Lan starts out as a relatively unassuming girl, especially when dealing with the Lim family. But there’s a feistiness in her that only manifests after she crosses into the ghost world. Her arduous journey through faux cities and houses is thrilling. And her rejection of the scheming groom, Lim Tian Ching, is vicariously satisfying—like watching a paper funeral offering burn.
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.