The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
This book genuinely annoyed me.
There was so much teasing of stories that I would rather read but we were stuck following the hapless heroine, Li Lan.
Oh, Li Lan.
If there was ever a character that you just want to bonk some sense or just to bonk her awake.
The Ghost Bride begins as the title implies. In time when Malaysia was still colonized, Li Lan is the lone daughter of a washed up, opium saturated but kind father. It is thanks to her attentive ajumma that Li Lan has been able to develop into a young woman. During her fathers opium haze, he asks Li Lan a strange and dooming question:
"Would you consider being a Ghost Bride?"
A ghost bride meaning a living human bride would be tied in marriage to a husband who has passed over. Just the mention of this unnatural connection between living and dead is an automatic ill omen. If only it was just. Li Lan finds her dreams intruded by the ghost of the recently deceased son of the Lim family who is pretty convinced that she will marry him.
From this point, the reality separating the living and the dead wavers and completely breaks down as Li Lan has to journey to a place no living person should be to save her herself, her heart, and her sanity.
There is a lot of superstition and beliefs alluded to during the book. The active burning of clothes and paper "goods" was the only familiar one. The idea is that the living would help their deceased family member in the next life by burning paper version of goods like "horses" to ride and such. This belief is manifested as an actual landscape in "The Ghost Bride." A landscape with rules, hierarchy, and the same kind of human emotion as the living realm. For even in this realm, Li Lan experiences deception, happiness, and hard ache of truth.
The first part of the book was building up into a slow story of Li Lan trying to be strong amid her fathers down-trodden family against the rich Lim family. The idea of the world where the deceased go after death just seems like a belief until, poof! Li Lan is there. The interest in the book has definitely increased as the book teases of a darker and more supernatural adventure. My hopes rose to visions of the dark fantasy humor like in "Monkeybone" or weird and beautiful like "Mirrormask."
Instead it just breezes through with the same temperate mood as the beginning. Li Lan's journey takes her through at a steady pace. The story telling in this book is very entertaining and keeps one flipping the next page. It just doesn't really satisfy. It is very similar to riding a roller coaster going on a steady pace but completely bypassing the juicy and more interesting bits.
There was a time crunch element to the story but I still would have liked to explore more parts of the dead world. Anything to keep the story on Er Lang.
The "love interest" for Li Lan was another member of the Lim family. A character that started off interesting enough with his clocks and book smarts. Then he just faded away. The other nods of romance between them was very tepid and easily forgettable.
Now every time Er Lang showed, things got way more interesting. Way, way more interesting when you find out who he really is. Which isn't a total surprise but the reveal was still pleasant enough. Every interaction Li Lan and Er Lang had just kept me thinking of a certain Studio Ghibli movie and that kept my fingers flipping on through.
Except for Er Lang, there isn't really a great pay off from Li Lan's adventure. Every thing just happens off to the side and there is a sense that nothing was really accomplished. It leaves one feeling very empty.
The frustration comes from wanting to discover more, read more, explore more. Even more important: more Er Lang! Considering how the book ends, I am pretty positive there is a sequel. There really better be a sequel to this. A sequel with ER LANG.