Title: The Ghost Bride published by HarperCollins Publishers
Writer: Yangze Choo
Year published: 2013
The Ghost Bride, written by first timer Yangze Choo, a Malaysian settled in the US tells the story of Li Lan, a young motherless girl in Malacca in the late 19th century. What pulls me about this book is not the characters, nor the plot but the setting. Set amidst the hustle and bustle of colonial Malacca, a port city in then Malaya, it brings to life the realities of historic and colourful Malacca. I enjoyed reading about 19th century Malacca, partly because I am a Malaccan and also for the beautifully described cultural scenes.
Lee Lan is a genteel Chinese girl, whose mother had died of smallpox when she was just a child. Brought up by a father who is more often clueless and drugged on opium, she depends a lot on her old Amah. The family fortunes had dwindled and now they are living in almost poverty, when one day Lee Lan is told by her father that one of the richest family in Malacca had approached him to propose her as a wife for their dead son! Fortunately her father had rejected the offer.
However things changed when Lee Lan was invited by the Lim family to play mahjong with the matriarch. Wandering around the house after going to the rest room, she comes across a young man and is at once fascinated by him as he courteously explains to her the intricacies of the clocks in the house. She did not realize that young man is actually the nephew and heir to the Lim family, Tian Bai. Soon after Lee Lan takes her leave but just before she leaves the Matriarch of the house asks for her hair ribbon.
That night Lee Lan dreams of the young man who had died. His name he told her was Lim Tian Ching and he was courting her. Frightened, Lee Lan blurted out "Aren't you dead? " which kind of made things disappear. She wakes up sweating in bed, too frightened to go back to sleep, until she finally dozes off in the early hours of dawn.
From that night onwards Li Lan is haunted by dreams of Tian Ching who insisted that he loved her and wanted to marry her!
The first part of the story is rather slow and in spite of Li Lan's journey through the spirit world and her experiences there I found that I really had to push myself to read on. If the romance part of the novel had been better developed it would have made better reading. In the second part we follow Li Lan through the spirit world in her fight against Tian Ching. She finds help with a spirit guide, Er Lang and with his help finally makes it back to the real world just in time to claim her body which had been stolen.
I spite of its slow start, this book does have a satisfying ending and I would recommend it to anybody who enjoys something different. Li lan as a character is different from other girls of her time. She is educated, strong and brave and even though puled into the underworld, fights against it.
A book that has many things to offer - ghosts and ghouls, demons, dragons, good guys and wicked vengeful spirits. Very interesting read. I'd give this book a 4 star rating, out of 5.