The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

rikurins's review against another edition

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Edit 01/01/19: I still think about this book a lot, and feel like I should've bumped it up a star a while back due to that, so I did!

I saw a few reviews that mentioned Li Lan lacked personality before I started reading The Ghost Bride, and after finishing it, I want to give a heads up--while much of the beginning of the novel involves Li Lan explaining Malaysian culture of the time by detailing a great deal of the setting around her, at the momentary expense of getting to know her as a character, around a quarter into the novel--when she meets an enigmatic character for the second time--that begins to change, as her character development and the mysteries of the plot begin to take over, and by the halfway point, that character dev and mystery take front and center, bringing forth numerous plot twists with them, many of which I didn't expect, and some of which I wanted but didn't dare expect.

This bit of dialogue is a good example, and maybe one of the most obvious indicators of Li Lan beginning to change into a more assertive person (though it may be a little spoilery)--

My annoyance got the better of me. "If you really want to go incognito, then you ought to change your clothes."

"My clothes?"

"And...and that ridiculous hat."

The richness of the setting is one of the novel's biggest draws (and possibly setback for those uninterested in everyday details of Malaysia in the late 1800's, though I was capitvated) and a history buff's dream come true, but Li Lan's slow but steady change and the quickening pace and the rising stakes halfway through the novel was what attracted me, to the point that I would've read it in one sitting instead of two if I hadn't needed sleep. While even saying so is a bit of a spoiler too, I much preferred the plot twists involving her romance versus what I had initially assumed about it--at one point before it became more apparent, I was exasperated and even pondered dropping the book (as a grumpy, fickle reader at this point), but little hints in the writing that not everything was as it seemed kept me going, just to see how it would all turn out.

I do have a few criticisms--like the (albeit brief) fantastical implication at one point that the dead might have a lot to do with catalyzing situations like wars (possibly even the Great War), which I think brushes away the responsibilities and atrocities of the living, and people's real life experiences. A more tenuous one: while there's a lot of good critique on the treatment of women in society, at times the novel seems to double back on some of its points. But then again, that might be due to Li Fan's anachronistic POV (especially with the occasional emphasis on how Li Fan was brought up to think).

Overall I think it's a worthwhile read for those interested in historical fiction, fantasy (the latter parts of the novel have all the world-building of the fantasy genre) and intrigue, along with some romance that doesn't end up as expected.

And as a last, small note due to it vaguely containing major spoilers,
Spoileras someone who watched Coco not long before reading The Ghost Bride, despite the differences in cultures, folklore, takes and plotlines, I was pretty fascinated by some parallels in the later sections of the novel.

Relatedly (though not to detract from Coco in any way), thinking of the many stories written about male characters journeying through underworlds made me appreciate The Ghost Bride being from the viewpoint of a teenage female protagonist.

chiquis21's review against another edition

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mbeargie's review against another edition

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I was surprised at how much I liked the Ghost Bride. It was thoughtfully written and had a few plot twists and suspense. It perfectly describes the personality of a maturing 18 year old. The details about burial customs were informative without being overwhelming. 5 stars!

coletters's review against another edition

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I was pretty bored for most of the book. The title is misleading and NOT what I thought it was going to be. The time spent wandering around in the "afterlife" was a little confusing most of the time, and I did not like the ending. Yes, it was a twist (kinda) and not what you would expect, but I still didn't like it.

Overall, not great, and I don't ever see myself re-reading it. Ever.

evilanchovy's review against another edition

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I liked this novel for its historical setting and cultural fidelity, but the story was slow for me.

kallik's review against another edition

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adventurous mysterious medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot


Unique and interesting 

readivine's review against another edition

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Truth be told, I never really read the blurb before reading this. I just read this as a part of my Year of the Asian Reading Challenge 2020 and boy, oh boy was I glad to have done so. Personally, I recommend others to not read the whole blurb as well to get the whole experience because it kind of gives most of the meat of the story. I actually only read it after finishing the whole book HAHAH. Now, onto the review.

Yangsze Choo’s prose is simple yet stylistic in a sense that she adeptly knows how to build anticipation and relief in a matter of a paragraph or less. I honestly love how she paces each subdivision of the chapter just right without ever leaving you hanging.

Alongside this, the major transitions were executed perfectly! Choo strikes you with the last sentence every time and my heart is just sooooo happy with how everything flows. One thing’s for sure, the writing is really compelling and you’ll probably breeze through the book as well.

This is honestly my favorite part of the book and I also think that this is its greatest strength. I savored each cultural detail by heart and even researched them to visualize it more! What I love the most about this is the fact that because the story is set on Malacca, (now Malaysia) I get to see parallels in my Filipino culture and language as we were descended from them.

I really enjoyed picking on each familiar word and putting the pieces together in relation to my own culture! Not only that, but I’ve learned tenfold of the Chinese cultures as well as other South East Asian references while reading this as opposed to my Asian History class in high school. HAHAHA I seriously loved reading all the details of the cultural backdrop.

The Asian culture was showcased in everything from the garments, jewelry, sculptures, food (oh my dear lerd, everything was just so delectable to read!), architecture, the caste system, conventional customs and, most of all, the convergence of the belief systems of the people. What makes this so appealing is because I get to visualize it vividly without the need to always check on the internet. That is, in fact, such a bonus for me!

The author was actually a local of Malaysia as well and you’ll definitely see that she did her research well and fleshed them out from experience. This just makes my heart gooey and soft because I felt like a tourist during my reading experience!

Pork dumplings are my all-time favorite meal and as it turns out, the mythology present in this book is also a newfound favorite! The mythology heavily draws from Buddhist and Taoist perspectives however, the author also stylized it with her own flair.

If you’ve watched the South Korean movie Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds and the Japanese animated film Spirited Away by Studio Ghibli, you will definitely see a lot of parallels that made those two films enthralling.

I can’t say much in this aspect because you have to read them to experience it yourself!

I think my surprise on the twists hinged on the fact that I haven’t read the blurb at all. HAHAHAHA. Nevertheless, I believe that each twist gets more gripping and will leave you wondering with how everything will turn out by the end.

The plot progression is heavily rooted in the decisions and choices of each family. Everything, in fact, escalated in conflict then tied neatly because of the interventions of the families in the book. This reiterates one of the most notable Asian characteristics which is filial love.

The Ghost Bride is not a perfect book. It has some minor plot holes that bugged me in the end, the escalation by the last part was also kind of messy and rushed, and most of all I sometimes get stressed over the main heroine for her minor flaws. She could be selfish and lacks agency sometimes though this is not to say that she isn’t a strong character.

Despite these minor issues though, I still find myself completely enthralled by the beauty of this book. I highly recommend this! (Just don’t rely solely on a fluffy romance heheh)

ladystryx's review against another edition

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adventurous emotional hopeful mysterious medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? N/A
  • Diverse cast of characters? N/A
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? N/A


squisheebee_'s review against another edition

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adventurous funny hopeful informative lighthearted mysterious sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? N/A
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


If you want ghosts, a slow burn & complicated love story, hidden family histories, murder mystery, & a dragon…pick it up! 

It does get a little clunky in the beginning & end. But I still absolutely enjoyed it. 

Er Long stan from the moment he was introduced ❤️

purrplenerd's review against another edition

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adventurous mysterious medium-paced