"One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride..."
Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.
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.
I was intrigued by the interesting premise. Having spent part of my childhood in Malaysia, and visited Malacca a few times, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of familiarity I felt as I read the book.
The myth and the air of mystery were also a surprise to me. I wasn't expecting such an elaborate journey on the main character's part, thinking it would just be a mysterious story about a wedding with a ghost. But then Li Lan, the main character, got swept away in the afterworld, met a few wonderful and repulsive characters, and in essence, it was an adventure I loved to tag along on.
Story wise, it was full of elements of surprise. The pacing was not that fast, exacerbated by the fact that it was full of historical facts and descriptions. Long passages and narration after narration got boring sometimes, but I soldiered on and it was worth it.
The romance took a back seat, but I was so glad to see it resurface near the ending, unexpectedly at that. The characters were flawed and vivid to the point that they portrayed what humanity was, and even the antagonists did make me shiver. When Lim Tian Ching first haunted Li Lan's dreams, I was afraid for her as well for myself - for it was in essence, a ghost story, and I was bracing for scary stories.
Li Lan was a heroine I loved to root for. At the beginning she was spoiled and selfish, but as the story progressed, I found out how resourceful she was, witty and stubborn. She was also pretty - something I was not expecting because she was not described as so, but then it coincided with the fact that she did not consider herself beautiful. This was a nice example of showing rather than telling; the author showed us how smart she was, and how attractive, instead of describing it in irrelevant details. The rest of the descriptions were vivid, and helped set the setting nicely.
In the end, I did not want this story to end. I reread some parts I loved, and would like a sequel although that does not seem possible at the moment