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The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo: Plains of the Dead, paper servants and other fun things

So the HarperCollins imprint William Morrow gave me some options for books to review and I said THE GHOST BRIDE, because an 1890s Malaysian woman having to marry a ghost because of Chinese custom sounded damn interesting. And it was. Except for the main character.

Ok, so it's the 1890s in Malaysia ("Malacca" at the time) and Li Lan's family has fallen from their wealthy merchant status to barely hanging on to respectability because her father smokes opium all the time due to sadness about his wife's death like 15 years ago. Li Lan's 18, which means damn, she needs to get married. Her nurse/nanny/similar role is pushing for this, but then she gets an offer from this wealthy family to marry their dead son. WHAT. Yeah, apparently even then it was a weirdass thing to ask, so they're like "Thanks, but no." THEN Li Lan meets the dead son in a dream where he's all like "So I guess we'll be getting married hehehehehe" and she's like

But he won't leave her alone. The rest of the book is Li Lan dealing with the Chinese/Malaysian spirit world and that part is BADASS. Yes, please tell me more of your culture's ideas about the afterlife, because my school failed me in this regard. Her interactions with ghosts and paper servants are super-cool and if I didn't dislike her a fair amount, I'd give this 4/5 instead of 3. It's worth it just to see stuff like paper hell money getting burned and then in the spirit world she HAS MONEY because that's how you get it. By burning it for people to use. So cool.

Li Lan starts out fine but becomes annoying as shit once she meets this guy Tian Bai and falls in love after talking to him ONCE for like five minutes. Boo. Boo. Boo. I am done with this trope unless you're Princess Aurora and the guy you meet is clearly handsome and awesome and sings in a fine piercing tenor.

Not that I'm talking about anyone in particular

The romance part of the plot is annoyingly predictable, but you can skim those parts (there's a lot about dudes' flat muscular stomachs if you're into that sort of thing) and then be like "AW SWEET THE PLAINS OF THE DEAD."

Speaking of the Plains of the Dead, can we talk about how irritating it is when Li Lan is all like "Oh, I thought they'd be like caverns and stuff, not a bunch of grass and fields." So what you're saying is you don't actually know what plains are. Ok.

But they're still cool and there're mediums and spirit papers and minor government officials of hell. Also the cover's shiny.

OTHER PLUS for this book is it made me want to learn more about Chinese myth and folklore. And about how Chinese culture impacted Malaysia. So what I'm saying is I recommend it, but only if you skim whenever the main character talks about dudes she's in love with, because she is an 18-year-old idiot. Just read about ox-headed demons and how ghosts eat.


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