Status: Finished Reading (07 August 2018)
Edition: Amazon Kindle
Rating: ★★★★☆ [ 4.5 / 5 ]
The Ghost Bride is a book that had an unusually intriguing premise so I knew as soon as I put it on my TBR-shelf that I was going to enjoy reading it. As expected, it took me through a fun but educational journey on life, death, love and family – all while keeping me on my toes about what was going to happen next.
The novel’s story is that of young Li Lan, an only child of a nearly bankrupt family in the merchant district of Malacca. Her family badly wants for her to get married, and while she has her sights on the new heir of the Lim family, her prospective in-laws wish for her to become the ghost bride to the recently deceased son who got dethroned from that honour. Caught between two choices, Li Lan’s journey deals with spirits, the afterlife, and walking the knife-like edge between life and death.
A paranormal-urban fantasy set in a historical time period, The Ghost Bride certainly does a good job of creating a world that the reader gets easily pulled into. Given the cultural melting pot that Malaya was, and given my own background (a North Indian growing up in South India), I found a lot of cultural similarities between Li Lan’s world and the colonial history books written here.
Li Lan is a very easy character to love and root for, which makes for a wonderful protagonist. There is a naïveté to her and how she perceives the world and its strangeness. At the same time, she’s incredibly plucky and willing to do what she wants if she badly wants it. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide in this journey through Malacca as well as the carefully constructed afterworld – someone who has their eyes and ears open with curiosity, but is also bound to inevitably stumble across things they shouldn’t meddle with.
I think the story is very straightforward. The prose flows quite naturally as do the descriptions – at no point is the reader thoroughly confused, but nor are they overwhelmed with information overload. The characters are also extremely fun to interact with, with their own motives and how these motives tie into Li Lan’s web.
[ Mild Spoilers Ahead ]
The only things that really pushed me to knock off half a star on an otherwise 5/5 rating is that the dialogue felt a little clumsy to me in some moments. While I enjoyed all the ghosts’ tendencies to indulge in conversation, some of them felt a little too expositional in nature. In particular, the one dialogue that didn’t work for me was the exchange between Li Lan and Auntie Three. It felt a little anti-climactic in its execution and could’ve been more polished.
The second that didn’t work for me was some of Li Lan’s internal dialogue. In some spots, it felt more like we were being told than shown. The one instance this really stood out to me was when she mentioned (I am paraphrasing) that off-late she had been thinking of Er Lang. I think lines like that took me out of the story because clearly she had been thinking of Er Lang. The reader being told that explicitly, instead of letting her natural thoughts show it, threw off my flow.
I was also confused what the writer meant when they mentioned that a lot of Indian immigrants in Malaya came from Madras and Chennai, given that they are one and the same (Madras being the colonial name for Chennai city). I gathered later that they might’ve meant the Madras Presidency and the capital city of the same name (which they decided to write as Chennai to avoid confusion) but I could not be sure.
These are the only nitpick-y things that made me take down the rating by a half star and award it a 4.5/5 instead. But if not for these things, this book is easily a 5/5 experience.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable read. I wondered perhaps if there would be a sequel but on further pondering, I did like the ending as it was. While I would never be opposed to reading more about Li Lan and the lovely world she has found herself in, I am also very happy with how the book tied everything together. Definitely give it a shot!