This is a good example of a book that turned out to be completely different from what I had expected. The premise intrigued me: Li Lan, a Chinese girl in late nineteenth-century Malaysia, is offered the opportunity to become a “ghost bride.” This custom within the Chinese community involves “marrying” a woman to a dead man, giving her the status of his wife (or widow) within his family’s household. Needless to say, Li Lan has her doubts about marriage to a dead man, especially when she discovers that his handsome, charming and very-much-alive cousin also lives in the household.
Based on this synopsis and the first couple of chapters, I expected a historical novel that explored a young girl’s immersion in this odd cultural practice, perhaps with a love story thrown in. Instead, The Ghost Bride could better be described as a paranormal historical fiction — the concept of becoming a ghost bride is not just belief or tradition in this novel, but a vivid reality, and much of the story takes place in the spirit realm rather than in everyday life. This isn’t a criticism of the book, but rather a notice to readers who, like me, might have been expecting something different. If you think of this less as a historical novel and more as a fantasy, you’ll be intrigued to follow Li Lan on her unexpected journey.