Review: Three Souls

I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Three SoulsThree Souls by Janie Chang
Published by William Morrow on February 25, 2014
Genres: Historical, Paranormal
Pages: 496
Format: ARC
Source: TLC Book Tours
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four-stars

An absorbing novel of romance and revolution, loyalty and family, sacrifice and undying love

We have three souls, or so I'd been told. But only in death could I confirm this ... So begins the haunting and captivating tale, set in 1935 China, of the ghost of a young woman named Leiyin, who watches her own funeral from above and wonders why she is being denied entry to the afterlife. Beside her are three souls—stern and scholarly yang; impulsive, romantic yin; and wise, shining hun—who will guide her toward understanding. She must, they tell her, make amends.

As Leiyin delves back in time with the three souls to review her life, she sees the spoiled and privileged teenager she once was, a girl who is concerned with her own desires while China is fractured by civil war and social upheaval. At a party, she meets Hanchin, a captivating left-wing poet and translator, and instantly falls in love with him.

When Leiyin defies her father to pursue Hanchin, she learns the harsh truth—that she is powerless over her fate. Her punishment for disobedience leads to exile, an unwanted marriage, a pregnancy, and, ultimately, her death. And when she discovers what she must do to be released from limbo into the afterlife, Leiyin realizes that the time for making amends is shorter than she thought.

Suffused with history and literature, Three Souls is an epic tale of revenge and betrayal, forbidden love, and the price we are willing to pay for freedom.

Three Souls is a beautiful debut novel, an enchanting ghost story of a woman with one last chance at redemption. In a lot of ways, the book reminds me of The Ghost Bride, which I read last year, but where that one left me bored, every page of Three Souls was enchanting and engaging. The vision of the afterlife portrayed herein is new to me and utterly fascinating, the characters interesting and the prose lovely.

For being a long book, Three Souls is actually a pretty quick read. The story isn’t action-packed by any means, but I thought it moved along at a fairly steady clip. Plus, the font, at least in the uncorrected proof, is larger than usual, meaning that it’s not actually as long as it seems. Almost five hundred pages went by very quickly, and Three Souls never felt like a struggle.

When Three Souls begins, the heroine is dead. Her family is mourning her, and she’s confused to find herself disembodied. Death has wiped her memory, and she’s floating above her funeral rites with her three souls (yang, yin, and hun). In order to figure out why she didn’t pass into the afterlife to reincarnate, Leiyin has to go back through her memories to see what she did wrong and to try to make amends. From this point, two thirds of the text relate her life from her time as a student to her death, and the last third involves her attempts to fix things from beyond the grave.

The memories unspool almost like Leiyin were watching her life on a television. She and her souls interject occasionally with their commentary, almost like doing a personal roast of your own life MST3K style. The yang soul looks like a wise old man, and he upholds the Confucian values of family and etiquette; he’s heavily critical of Leiyin’s choices. The yin soul appears in the guise of a young woman, and is sympathetic and emotional. The hun is a bit trickier to grasp, a swirling ball of light, and seems to be a bit more even-handed with criticism. Leiyin is able to see her life more clearly the second time around and understand a lot of things she missed.

Chang does a beautiful job relating the values of Chinese culture, especially in the shifting time period before the Communist revolution. There was a lot of Western influence and modern values, but still a lot of importance places on tradition, like the important of sons making the taking of a concubine a good practice. With the yang soul, especially, a Western reader can know what society expected of a young girl. However, the novel’s tone is not one of condemnation, but of amelioration and hope. I feared Leiyin would be shamed for her being too disobedient to the patriarchy and punished for being so unwise. In a way, she is, but her redemption isn’t through admitting that wrong but undoing some of the bad things she did for petty reasons.

The plot does tend a bit too much toward the everybody is unhappy all the time end of the spectrum for my taste, but I did love the way that Leiyin’s husband’s second wife was depicted. In life, Leiyin would no doubt have hated her just for existing, but in death Leiyin sees with an unbiased eye. The ending was a bit more open-ended than I wanted, but I suppose it had to be open-ended one way or another, since it’s an afterlife story.

Three Souls is a thoughtful ghost story set in Chinese culture. It’s beautiful and contemplative, and I recommend it highly.

Favorite Quote:

We have three souls, or so I’d been told.

But only in death could I confirm this.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

Mulan ancestors

15 responses to “Review: Three Souls”

  1. kristin says:

    I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who thought of the ancestors from Mulan. This sounds like a great book. I’m usually one for a little bit more action and fast pace but the whole concept of having to review your own life to figure out what went wrong is interesting.
    Kristin @ Book Sniffers Anonymous
    kristin recently posted…Review: Need You Tonight by Roni LorenMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Haha, no, I was totally picturing them as the souls, or at least certain ones as the three souls. It made everything that bit more fun. :-p

  2. I’m really intrigued at the Chinese culture, because right now I’m reading The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck and the Chinese culture and traditions are really interesting especially because I can identify with a lot of those traditions. Really glad you liked this one, Christina, fantastic review! <33
    Eileen @ Singing and Reading in the Rain recently posted…Promise of Shadows by Justina IrelandMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Oooh, I’ve not read The Good Earth yet, but I want to. Obviously, blogging hasn’t done much for my classics reading, but it will happen at some point. :-p

  3. I had a nightmare about this once, very creepy idea to stay in the after life. I like the idea of having three souls with different voices and how she is trying to make amends 🙂 I’m not too sure about the open-ending, though, because I rarely like those.
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Monthly recap. February.My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      I loooove afterlife stuff, so that part was fantastic. Your nightmare sounds stressful. It was pretty cool because she mostly wasn’t upset about it, since she’d forgotten everything and could be more objective. Hmm, yeah, I’ve already forgotten exactly how it ended, so I guess it wasn’t that upsetting. Lol. My memory is a sad place.

  4. This sounds so different from anything I’ve read before. I have only read a few books revolving around Chinese culture and I’ve enjoyed all of them, so I’ll have to keep this in mind. I don’t mind open-ended books as long as they are done correctly. 🙂
    Michelle @ In Libris Veritas recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Popular Authors I’ve Never ReadMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Yeah, this wasn’t hurl the book at the wall open-ended, but I would have liked to know a BIT more. Still a beautiful book though. 🙂

  5. Hahahahha Mulan GIF, I love it.

    Also, Three Souls sounds like a book I would enjoy, like it sounds more upbeat than, say, Snow Flower And The Secret Fan and I always love reading books about a culture that is different from mine.
    April Books & Wine recently posted…Perfect Lies | Kiersten White | Book ReviewMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      The Mulan gif is what I had to have. It was surprisingly hard to find a gif of the ghosts being all happy and that is what I wanted because I liked it.

      Also, yes, it’s not like an upper, but it’s not MASSIVELY depressing, which I know some of the Asian setting books are. Like, I like dark, but can EVERYTHING EVER not be worst?

  6. I read this one over the weekend and absolutely adored it. Loved the premise, loved the characters, and yes, wholeheartedly loved the glimpse at Chinese culture and history that the book allowed.
    Becky LeJeune recently posted…Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer RidyardMy Profile

  7. Bonnie says:

    This sounds like a lovely novel. And sad and heartbreaking. On the wishlist it goes.

    Yes! Mulan gif!
    Bonnie recently posted…Book Review – Unravel Me (Shatter Me #2) by Tahereh MafiMy Profile

  8. I have to admit to not knowing a great deal about Chinese culture and mythology so I’m very intrigued about this book. I’m glad to see how much you enjoyed it!

    Thanks for being on the tour!

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