TLC Book Tour: “The Ghost Bride” by Yangsze Choo

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Supernatural 

Published 2013 by William Morrow (an imprint of HaprerCollins)
eBook, 355 pages 
$15.99 CAD 
(also available in hardcover, $31.00 CAD, and paperback, $18.50 CAD)

Note: As a tour host selected by TLC virtual book tours, I receive a complimentary copy from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. I otherwise receive no compensation. The opinions expressed here are completely honest and completely my own.  

I was excited when I found this title among the books for upcoming TLC tours! I had been wanting to read this book with its beautiful and intriguing cover, and TLC book tours provided me with the perfect opportunity. I was looking forward to a historical novel exploring another culture. I was a little surprised when I got into it, because it was not altogether what I was expecting (to be honest, I only skimmed the synopsis, so that’s my bad!). However, it was still quite good!
The Ghost Bride is the story of Li Lan. She is a young woman living in Malaya (now Malaysia), a colonial of China, in 1893. She and her family live in a port town called Malacca. She is of marriageable age, but doesn’t have many prospects as her family, though respectable, has gone bankrupt. Without money, a good alliance is highly improbable. One day her father tells her of an… interesting proposal that he received from the wealthy Lim household. He was asked if Li Lan would be the ghost bride of the eldest Lim son who had died. 
Ghost marriages were to appease spirits. They were often between a couple who died before they were able to be married, or between a man and his mistress, after the man died, to bring the mistress to wife status. However, they also sometimes took place so that there was a widow to perform the ancestral rites for the dead man. So, all-in-all, this proposal shocks Li Lan (especially since she didn’t know the man!). She is surprised that her father would even convey to her such an insulting proposal. This would mean that Li Lan and her family were provided for, but it would also mean a lonely life of ceremonial sacrifices for Li Lan. Her father seems to understand why Li Lan would be against this marriage. However, he also seems to still want her to accept it. Although he loves his daughter very much, he has been slack in providing for her. He has been mentally absent to her, filling his mind with opium and memories of his dead wife. He is not being completely honest with Li Lan about how he has failed her, and what she faces as an unwed woman. 
As Li Lan explores her options, she visits the Lim mansion socially, and tries to understand their family politics. Not all is what it seems on the surface. Here, however, she meets Lim Tian Bai, and falls for him. When this happens, and she appears even more against the ghost marriage, Lim Tian Ching, her proposed ghost husband, begins haunting her dreams.  
This is where the story took an interesting turn. Instead of just exploring the historicity of ghost marriages and the time in which Li Lan lived, Choo instead takes a spiritual approach. Using a mixture of the prominent religious beliefs and superstitions in Malaysia, Choo brings to life a spirit world that Li Lan must navigate in order to save herself and her family. I thought this spirit world was a very interesting and creative tool for exploring the beliefs and culture of Malaysia. Instead of just discussing them, we experience them first hand alongside Li Lan. 
Lim Tian Ching is a slippery sort of fellow, and it’s hard to believe what he says. However, through her dreams, he manages to instil doubt in Li Lan. This leads her to see a medium, and, ultimately leads her to a spectral out of body experience in the spirit world. 
At first, I thought the switch from the expected historical fiction to the realm of spiritual/paranormal fiction was a bit odd, but it turned out to be a very interesting historical fantasy/mystery. Li Lan’s journey—both physical (well, technically spiritual) and emotional—is quite compelling. While she finds her way through the spirit world, she also comes into her own.
After my initial confusion over the swap to the fantastical, I really got into the story. Even more than that—I got excited about the ways in which I was able to learn more about Malaysian culture and beliefs. I don’t think it’s intentional (at least I hope it’s not), but I don’t tend to be drawn toward books set in different cultures. I don’t know why. I tend to read more stories about characters and stories set in cultures similar to my own. Perhaps it’s the familiarity and relatability. However, this experience with Malaysian superstitions, beliefs, and culture was invigorating. This was true because they were seamlessly combined with the plot and the character development. It wasn’t like, So, this cultural phenomenon is happening, insert explanation. It flowed much more naturally. I think that’s why the ghost story element was such a good choice for this particular story. It allowed me to become immersed in the beliefs and culture without feeling lectured about them and without feeling like I was outright being taught something. Although, yes, I do like to learn, I find sometimes fictions can feel more like nonfictions in this regard, and I am not a huge lover of reading nonfictions. 
Another thing Choo does well is character development. I loved the characters in this story, and they were anything but flat. Even the more secondary characters such as Li Lan’s father, her Amah, and Old Wong, were well drawn and experienced at least a small amount of expansion. (These three were actually my favourite characters. They were on the eccentric side, and I loved it!) Furthermore, even the “villains” in the story aren’t one sided. They serve well as antagonists,  but there is more to them. For example, Lim Tian Ching does some unsavoury things, but there is also much about him to pity. Each character’s motivations are explored and revealed in a really human way.
I really enjoyed this book. The writing was beautiful, the style was excellent, the characters were well drawn, the the plot was exciting. If you enjoy fantasy/mystery and/or historical fiction, you should definitely give this one a try! (If you are reading this before 15 August 2014, you should enter to win a free copy on the sidebar!)

About the Author (via GoodReads):

Yangsze Choo is a fourth generation Malaysian of Chinese descent. After graduating from Harvard, she worked as a management consultant and at a startup before writing her first novel. Yangsze eats and reads too much, and often does both at the same time. You can follow her blog at or on Twitter @yangszechoo

Check out Yangsze’s other tour stops for The Ghost Bride:
Tuesday, August 5th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Wednesday, August 6th: Jorie Loves a Story
Thursday, August 7th: Book Dilettante
Friday, August 8th: Bibliosue
Monday, August 11th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, August 12th: Here!!
Monday, August 18th: Literary Feline
Tuesday, August 19th: Books Without Any Pictures
Wednesday, August 20th: Olduvai Reads
Thursday, August 21st: Snowdrop Dreams of Books
Friday, August 22nd: nightlyreading
Saturday, August 30th: guiltless reading