I really, really wish I liked this book more than I did. It really has quite a bit going for it, I really enjoyed about 85% of the book a lot, but it didn’t quite stick the landing for me.
Set in Nineteenth Century British Malaya, Li Lan is the only child of a Chinese businessman. The family fortunes have dwindled to almost nothing since the family was hit with small pox, disfiguring Li Lan’s father and killing her mother when she was very young. This leaves Li Lan in an unfortunate position- her family is socially rather high ranking, but the lack of money, and the fact that her father has let most of his social connections lapse, means that there isn’t much in the way of dowry and marriage prospects.
At one point, her father mentions in passing that the very high ranking Lim family had asked if he would consent to have Li Lan be their recently departed son’s Ghost Bride. This offer is a surprise, and unknown to everyone in Li Lan’s family, sets into motion a chain of events that eventually lead to Li Lan entering the Chinese Spirit World, and with the help of the mysterious Er Lang trying to figure out why the dead Lim son is so set on having her as her bride and bring peace back to her home.
That is a very simplistic synopsis of a much more complex and beautiful story. Choo does a great job of weaving the Spirit and Living worlds together and creating a really compelling story. Her characterization is very strong, the people within this story are fully realized and well rounded. I was totally on board until the third act, which felt a little rushed and the final resolution left me feeling a little underwhelmed. I didn’t so much hate how it ended, I just wish it hadn’t felt quite so rushed getting there after we had taken our time through the rest of the book.
There are also a few places where the language get a little over explanatory for me. While I understand that nineteenth century Malaysian culture isn’t something a good number of people are going to be familiar with, there were several points where the author almost stops the story in it’s tracks to explain how various pieces of clothing work, or gives the finer points of certain types of boats or geography that are not totally needed to understand what is happening. I understand what she is trying to do, but I think there would be a way to do so that feels less ‘history lesson.’
Overall, though, I’m glad I read this book. It is a really wonderful world and I’m glad I got to spend some time in it. The Back of the Cover synopsis compares it to Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman and I think that is a very apt comparison.
I’m using this for my “Far and Away” Square on my Bingo card.