Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

Look at that cover! It’s so perfect for this story. Beautifully rich and lush writing and a mysterious and dream-like plot. I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now, and it was completely worth wait, living up to all my expectations. The plot actually surprised me a little, as I was expecting a straight-forward historical story, somehow missing that there would be a paranormal plot-line central to the novel.

Choo has created the most gorgeous and vivid world in her setting of early nineteenth-century Malacca in Malaya. Even little detail of both the ‘real world’ and the parallel ghost-world is exquisitely described. It’s clear that not only has the author done extensive research, she’s really passionate about the subject matter (especially if you read the really interesting notes at the end of the story). The dreamy, haunting prose perfectly paints the cobbled streets full of hungry ghosts and the Lim mansion (here and the scarier version in the land of the dead). The descriptions of the foods, influenced by the varies cultures within Malacca, will make your mouth water. The plot might be a little slow for some but I was perfectly happy to take my time and enjoy the sights.

I did feel like the ending was a little rushed. Considering how many mysteries were set up (who killed Tian Ching, the corruption within the Courts of Hell, anything about Er Lang…) it all seemed very quickly wrapped up and brushed off. I’ve seen some comments about the love triangle and the lack of depth in the characters relationships. I can completely understand the critique, but it didn’t really bother me. Although it has a love triangle and Bride in the title, I wouldn’t class this a romance. It’s more of a character study of a time and place, or a love letter to nineteenth-century Malacca and Malay culture.

If you love fast-paced, action-packed stories this may not be the right story for you, but it you want something dream-like and beautiful to immerse yourself in, you should give it a try. This is the author’s debut and only current novel, but I’ll definetly pick up her next release.

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