Hardcover, 368 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by William Morrow
Source: Personal Copy
In some parts of Asia, if young men die without getting married, their relatives try to find them brides who are usually young women who have also died without getting married. I believe this may be an archaic tradition and is not practiced as much (if at all) in modern times but I could be wrong so don’t take my word for it. The important point is: the bride is usually as dead as her future husband.
Hm. In all the literature/media I have consumed that deal with ghost brides, the brides in question have been very much alive. (See The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff and the K-Drama Master’s Sun which has an episode where the main ghost-seeing character is roped in to play bride to a very dead grandson). In The Ghost Bride, the bride in question is very much alive as well but her husband-to-be is not as departed as she may wish him to be.
The novel is set against the lush backdrop of Malaya (modern day Malaysia, I believe) and considers the fate of Li Lan, a beloved daughter of a noble family who are currently facing difficult economic times. When the proposal comes from the very wealthy and very powerful Lim family, Li Lan’s father jumps at the chance even though Li Lan had already been betrothed to a poorer relation in the same family. Or at least some sort of vague promise had existed between them.
Anyway, Li Lan’s ghost husband-to-be visits her in her dreams and promises her of pleasures to come. Needless to say, Li Lan isn’t convinced. Plus, the husband-to-be wasn’t, despite his wealth, power, and family, not a prize when he was alive and is even less so now that he is dead. Things become more interesting when Li Lan finds a way to separate her body from her spirit without actually, you know, dying and goes on a journey to the land of the dead, meeting ghosts, dead relatives and a very intriguing stranger along the way.
The Ghost Bride isn’t perfect but it offers a glimpse of a world that we (as in Western readers, those not belonging to the culture) hardly ever see. I was entranced by the new mythology, by the strange landscapes Li Lan traverses, and by the folklore interwoven through the narrative. The power struggle among the women of the Lim family was very intriguing, especially since it was all done so subtly. But I think I was most enchanted by the portion of the narrative that took place in the land of the dead. The romance was not my favourite but a twist near the end won my favour.
This book has all the elements that make it an enjoyable read especially for children who enjoy fantasy. It’s accessible, fun, and clean.