I read this in a 48-hour spree, thank you very much flemmings
. The Ghost Bride
is excellent. The characters are vivid, the setting is glorious (more below), and the prose is clear and effortless without once being heavy or overwrought.
A spoiler-free summary: Li Lan, the daughter of an impoverished genteel family in a Malayan port city, is offered a betrothal to the wealthy--but already dead--son of the richest family in town. She refuses, but the dead man begins to visit her dreams, and things get weirder from there. If I had to genre it, I'd cast it as historical fantasy, but there's a mystery, and a bit of romance as well.
The book is set in Malacca, a Malayan port city under British rule. Choo's depiction of the intermingling of cultures (Malay, Chinese, British, all the way to Dutch and Portuguese) is one of the most delightful aspects of this story. The author is very aware, as flemmings
has noted, not only of the hierarchies under British rule, but also of Malay-Chinese relations and the social position of the Chinese migrants/merchants. The setting is never once bland, but clearly grounded in a city that the author knows well. The weather descriptions put me in mind of the yearly monsoon season in Fuzhou, where I grew up. The descriptions of the indoor furnishings made me miss the straw mats we used to sleep on! I also really enjoyed reading about how households are run--for instance, the Amah Association was new to me and I liked it! I should say, I hate that certain women had no choice, but I'm glad they took care of each other.
The fantasy is mostly derived from Chinese folklore, but you don't need to know any to enjoy the book. I knew a smattering and so was able to guess part of the reveal of Who Is That Dude, but I didn't realize he was pulled straight out of a certain canon. I wish I knew more Malaysian folklore, but I don't think that was used as much. I could be wrong, though. People who know better than I do should tell me!The Ghost Bride
is not perfect. The plot threads could have been tighter, and the resolution of the mysteries were somewhat weak. While answers were given to all the questions, the consequences for the perpetrators turned out to be quite irrelevant (and treated as such, by which I mean, mostly glossed over), which I found unsatisfying. I mean, if I were reading a murder mystery, "We made some arrests. The End." should not be the entirety of the resolution chapter. But more charitably speaking, when one mashes four genres (history! fantasy! mystery! romance!) into a short book, not everything is going to fit in. So, if plot is extremely important to you--or if you are just in the mood for a book with a watertight plot--then perhaps keep the receipt.
For everyone else, I definitely recommend that you give this a try!