By Yangsze Choo
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian
Recommended to me by a friend, this debut novel set in colonial Malaysia is more than just a ghost story. It's also the story of a strange, otherworldly romance (of a kind). The novel is about Li Lan, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant who was once quite wealthy. For a variety of reasons, her family has lost all their money and are now just barely making ends meet. One day, Li Lan's father asks her if she'd like to be a ghost bride -- and that's just the beginning of the story.
Ghost marriages, Li Lan tells us, are commonly for couples who have both died young. But in her case, she's still alive and is asked to marry the dead son of the Lim family -- who are very rich. If she were to consent to the marriage, her family would be able to survive in a much more comfortable fashion. Li Lan's adventures begin when she starts seeing her fiancé (Tian Bai) in her dreams as he attempts to seduce her. But the story doesn't in there, as Li Lan drifts further and further into the spirit world, she begins to uncover secrets she was never meant to know -- those about her mother and the Lim family she is to be married into.
Yangsze Choo's writing is exceptional, especially considering this is her debut novel. Li Lan is a sympathetic character and you want things to work out for her. Choo's descriptions of Malaysia (both the real world that Li Lan lives in and the sprit world she's caught up in) are vivid and engrossing. Li Lan's struggles with Tian Bai (her supposed fiancé) are the driving force behind the novel, but they are not the only force. Choo gives us an alternative to Tian Bai found in Li Lan's guardian spirit Er Lang.
Those looking for fantasy with a twist of romance will enjoy the unexpected relationship and banter that develops between Er Lang and Li Lan. Choo's characters are so exquisitely written that we cannot help being caught up in their stories (from the Lim family's deceptions to the woman who raised Li Lan). The Ghost Bride is a both a romance and a mystery. Li Lan must force herself to grow up and decide just how much of her life (if any) she's willing to sacrifice. Even if you have no interest in ghost stories, pick upThe Ghost Bride. It'll suck you right in and you won't great your time.