The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Available Through The Book Depository: The Ghost Bride
Cover Design: Mumtaz Mustafa
Summary: 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.
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: The Ghost Bride is a rich and immersive historical fantasy, set in 1890’s Malaya! Weaving together the paranormal, romance, alongside Chinese and Malaysian culture, customs, and mythology! Choo’s story is a captivating tale filled with adventure when Li Lan is told to she’ll be arranged in a ghost marriage!
I’d already been looking forward to reading Choo’s novel for a while, because I mean from that summary, doesn’t it sound fascinating? Well I knew the Netflix series had already released earlier this year and decided to finally give it a read!
*Quick side-note: In this review I’ll also talk a bit about The Ghost Bride adaptation and why you should watch it! (Seriously, it seems like not enough people have watched this show and its FANTASTIC + only 6 episodes)
17-year-old Li Lan’s family is struggling financially and so when the story starts, her father informs her that the wealthy Lim, has offered a her marriage proposal to become a Ghost Bride!
Even after getting to visit the Lim mansion she feels like she isn’t suited for this proposal and isn’t sure what to do. But, when Lim Tian Ching (the dead son) soon starts haunting her, she learns that his death may not have been an accident.
As she tries to escape Lim Tian’s hauntings night after night, she’s also drawn to another member of the family, his cousin Tian Bai! Though in trying to escape Lim Tian, she accidentally takes too much of a potion and finds herself trapped in the in-between of her world and the afterlife.
She journeys to the Plains Of The Dead in order to solve the mystery of Lim Tian Ching’s death, uncover secrets about her family and find her way home before its too late!
What The Ghost Bride does so beautifully is create a vivid and immersive setting that instantly transports you! From the port town of Malacca to the Plains Of The Dead, Lim Mansion, etc. they all come to life through an elegant 1st person POV.
Choo’s prose is poetic and descriptive, illustrating a vast and lush setting. You get a sense of not only time, but also weather, food, customs, interwoven with layers of politics and social class. The storytelling itself is also so unique and goes in directions I was not expecting! Alongside that, the atmosphere is there from the very beginning making it incredibly easy to picture yourself there!
Following Li Lan’s perspective rooted me even more in the setting, its characters, including the world of the living and dead that Choo crafted! Telling this story from Li Lan’s perspective brings such an emotional and descriptive depth to the world as a whole. Its so easy to be immersed into all these different layers of the story!
The 1st person POV also brings a deep sense of melancholy, knowing Li Lan’s family situation and this feeling of loneliness after losing her mother and feeling like her father has drifted away. However, Li Lan is an incredibly sarcastic, intuitive, and overall just engaging character that it only made sense to have us follow her journey through this perspective!
There’s also many lighthearted moments, weaved with humor & sarcasm that really bring a lot of funny moments throughout the story!
The cast of characters are also fantastic, I loved them! Aside from our main character Li Lan, Amah (whose like a mother to her) and Old Wong, the family chef, are both there for her and are these glimmering lights for her during this rough time.
Aside from Tian Bai and Lim Tian Ching, there’s also Er Lang (a powerful guide of sorts) and Fan, a ghost who sees Li Lan when she takes on a ghostly form.
Both Er Lang and Fan act almost as paranormal guides who help her during her journey in the Plains and the
There’s also Tian Bai, who Li Lan is instantly drawn too, then there’s Er Lang and Fan, paranormal guides who help Li Lan during her journey to the Plains, which is a ghostly mirror to her port town home of Malacca!
Speaking of The Plains, there’s this underlying politics and intrigue woven into this part of Li Lan’s journey that beautifully captures such a deep well of emotion that she herself has built throughout her life, which she now faces, in a way! From Li Lan better understanding her own romantic feelings, facing her past, and learning more about the paranormal ties that others have to her family.
There’s also a lot of mystery surrounding Lim Tian Ching’s death and his character as a whole, so though his scenes are minimal, he really brought a lot of impact to the story. I wish there were maybe a couple more scenes with him, including Er Lang!
Speaking of Er Lang, his character surprised me the most! He’s one of Li Lan’s closest companions during her journey and I loved how he got a lot of development closer to the end. During her time in the Plains being surrounded by wandering spirits, she realizes she can trust him to help her get out of some tough situations! However, when she does finally get back home, there’s this lingering connection between them that I was not expecting, but it was interesting how it developed throughout the last third of the book.
The story itself beautifully explores family and legacy as Li Lan finds herself on a race to get back to her body in the real world. I find that was because of Choo’s descriptive and dazzling writing! The way that scenes, dialogue, setting descriptions are so beautifully crafted is what brings the mystery and layers to the story in such a perfect way!
Though I absolutely adored this book, I did want to get into a couple specifics that lowered my rating! It would have been great to get even more background description to build more of the setting of Malaya/Malacca and The Plains Of The Dead. Choo beautifully captured the folklore and setting that I could really picture myself there, I just wish there was more! There’s also a lot of conflict brought towards the end of the book that did make the way plot threads wrapped up, feel a bit rushed (in my opinion).
Also, this is just a personal gripe because I really loved this cast of characters, I wish there was just more interactions between all of them with Li Lan! She’s such a dynamic heroine and it would have been great to have more of that connection with the rest of the cast (like Fan, Er Lang, even getting more development with Tian Bai and resolution with her father).
Now onto the Netflix adaptation & the book: Honestly, I LOVE both of them equally, there are differences that set them apart, but they both have that special thing that makes both such captivating / unique stories!
I’m thinking of maybe doing a mini review of the show (possibly?), but to break it down: Just seeing Li Lan’s dynamic personality brought to life by such an amazing actress (Peijia Huang) alongside the rest of the cast too, made this one of my favorite mini-series! (Its that good that I will gladly watch it all over again multiple times ❤)
The costumes, story and how it ties together, cinematography, dialogue, character chemistry, unraveling mystery–its all done spectacularly!
Also what makes The Ghost Bride Netflix adaptation super interesting is that it blends more of the humor which is more present among the darker/paranormal elements, that even with the story changes it really comes together as a FANTASTIC show! (Seriously this show puts focus on the humor and does a stellar job at it! The comedic timing & humor is perfect 😂💖)
The Ghost Bride is a captivating story that blends romance, the paranormal that’s rooted in Chinese Folklore and Malaysian culture! This is a story about independence and discovery as Li Lan finds herself caught in the ghostly afterlife! Choo’s historical fantasy is woven with lush writing, deeply explored themes, introspective storytelling, and above all an immersive tale about love and sacrifice!