Title: Ghost Bride
Author: Yangsze Choo
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal
Level of difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries
My Rating: 2/5 Stars
Li Lan, the daughter of a once reputable but now bankrupt family, gets a marriage proposal from the Lim family, a highly respectable and wealthy family. However, it is a marriage proposal for their recently deceased son, Lim Tian Ching. Despite Li Lan’s refusal to be a ghost bride, she finds herself haunted by Lim Tian Ching and losing her health at the same time.
It was a fascinating idea and had so much potential, but the execution was sadly disappointing, in my opinion. I think the first problem was that the intended audience was not clear. Was it for Malaysian or other Asian readers? A non-Chinese audience? Teenagers or adults? As someone very familiar with Malaya and Singapore history and Malay and Chinese culture, there was too much explaining of certain concepts, names, food and places in the novel. While I understand that the explanation might have been primarily for non-Malaysian readers to follow the storyline better, the way the explanations were woven into the story felt forced instead of a ‘show not tell’ manner. In addition, I don’t think there is a huge problem with readers doing their ‘Googles’ and actively learning more about a culture if they happen to be reading a book based on an unfamiliar culture to them.
The second problem I had was that the plot twists in the books were very predictable, and many aspects of the novel felt too convenient. For example, the main character’s love interest in the story was not believable. As a reader, I could understand the infatuation with the first love interest; however, they barely had any interactions to portray the implied deep love between them. In addition, there were even fewer interactions with the second love interest to understand why the main character would so easily choose them over the first love interest. In addition, the motivations for certain characters’ betrayal, help, and the reasoning behind certain characters’ talents were weak. ( I am trying to be as vague as possible to avoid spoilers).
The third problem was the execution of Chinese culture and its beliefs of the afterlife as the basis of the fantasy/paranormal elements in the book. I was pretty disappointed because that was a huge motivation for why I picked the book up. I was actually a little nonplussed when one character in the novel turned into a mystical creature. I thought to myself, why them and why all of a sudden and why this creature? In addition, the mystical creature chosen felt a little bit cliché. Since there was little justification for the world-building and certain fantasy elements (despite being based on cultural beliefs and not just make-believe), they fell flat and, as a reader, a bit unbelievable, especially when there were some inconsistencies.
Nevertheless, I still think it was a worthwhile read as I was intrigued to find out how the story would play out and end (though quite conveniently), and I greatly appreciated the representation showcased in the novel.
The book was recently turned into a Netflix show; however, the trailer for the show hints that the series is a little bit different from the book. Here it is: