Audiobook Review: The Ghost Bride

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

Audiobook Review: The Ghost BrideThe Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Narrator: Yangsze Choo
Length: 12 hrs, 8 mins
Published by Harper Audio on August 6, 2013
Genres: Historical, Mythology, Paranormal, Romance
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher

A startlingly original voice makes her literary debut with this wondrous coming-of-age story infused with Chinese folklore, romantic intrigue, adventure, and fascinating, dreamlike twists

One evening, my father asked me whether I would like to become a ghost bride. . . .

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family's only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, traditional ghost marriages are used to placate restless spirits. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lims' handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits, and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family's darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

There’s no review I hate to write more than an ambivalent one, but, yet again, I must venture forth. With books I love or loathe, I have so much to comment on generally, but, when I’m smack dab in the middle, I just kind of want to sigh and walk away. The Ghost Bride had its moments of brilliance where I thought it would live up to that cover, which is one of the prettiest ever, but overall was rather tedious.

The opening of The Ghost Bride really drew me in and made me think I would end up loving this book. Yangsze Choo’s writing is beautiful and rather ethereal, perfectly fitting the ghostly, subtle horror of the subject matter. Plus, the setting, colonial Malaya is unique and of almost endless fascination to me. Malacca, the port town in which Li Lan lives, shows evidence of the intertwining of traditional Chinese beliefs with some of the traditions of the British overlords, and all of that was great.

The main plot of The Ghost Bride centers around the creepy concept of ghost marriage, in which a living person would be married to someone already deceased. There were some legitimate reasons for this, like making a mistress a wife so that her child would no longer be a bastard and could inherit. However, sometimes, as in this case, the ghost would visit a family member and ask for a bride. In this case, the unlucky bride is Li Lan.

The oldest son of the Lim family pursues Li Lan from the underworld, haunting her dreams every night. She cannot resist his dream visitations, and it’s seriously stalkerish and not okay. Even worse, her spirit becomes disconnected from her body, and she has to go on a journey to free herself from the deceased Lim son and to get back into her body. That’s a pretty cool plot in theory.

I say “in theory” because they story line quickly lost its charm in The Ghost Bride. As soon as Li Lan popped out of her body, the story took an abrupt turn for the mind-numbingly boring. Finishing this book took me much longer than it should have, because I had no desire to listen to any more. Essentially, the whole middle part of the book accomplishes almost nothing from a plot perspective, and there’s not enough characterization to pull off such a slow, dithering pace. Things happen because of reasons and I don’t care about them in the slightest.

So far as the romance goes, I’m of two minds, but think I come down more on the positive side. Choo never really hit a swoony note, but both love interests are conceivable options with different sorts of appeal for Li Lan. Initially, Li Lan’s feelings for Tian Bai are quite instalovey, but, in a society where there wasn’t much courting, it made sense for her to seize on him, especially when desperate to escape this ghost marriage. I also liked that she came to see that her intense attraction to him initially was just that, and not the true love she’d imagined. View Spoiler »

Author narration can be a tricky business. In theory, it’s a great idea, because who knows the work and characters and intended inflections on dialog better than the author? Still, not every author has a voice for narration. Thankfully, Choo does. She’s got a British accent (and you know how I feel about those), and a measured, polished tone. While she isn’t the best at characters, she does a pretty good job for a first time narrator.

What it comes down to is that I would have really enjoyed The Ghost Bride had it been at least a third shorter. A lot of the plot drifted and accomplished little, and I was mired in that dreary middle for a long time.

26 responses to “Audiobook Review: The Ghost Bride”

  1. fakesteph says:

    Interesting. I’m sorry that you came down in the middle on this one. I agree that it has a really cool and creepy concept and I was really hoping it would be amazing.
    fakesteph recently posted…Wild Cards by Simone ElkelesMy Profile

  2. I know how you feel when it comes to writing mixed reviews. Sometimes I just cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to write out my points in a way that will both make sense and make me sound sane. So I won’t hold you accountable if I can’t make sense of this review. *pats*

    The premise for this book, though — so cool and creepy! Which is why I’m so disappointed it didn’t work out for you. And ugh, if you had problems with the pacing, what about me? I’m incredibly impatient and picky when it comes to books, because it has to grab me at the right time with the right things, so this doesn’t sound like something I would enjoy at all. Well, unless I wanted to fall asleep quickly.

    I would’ve been more willing to give this book a try, but because of the slow-moving middle bit, I don’t think it’s worth it. I do love the cover, though. Lovely review, Christina!
    Megan @ Adrift on Vulcan recently posted…Compact Reviews: Delia’s Shadow / Find MeMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      I know! The premise is something special, and, at times, I was really into it. However, the pacing. Haha, I know. I think of myself as a really patient reader, but I couldn’t deal. Kara actually DNFed thirty pages in, and that’s the part where I was really enjoying it. So yeah. However, I have a couple of friends who did love it, though I’ve not read the reviews to see why it worked for them when it did not for me.

      One of my favorite covers ever. WHY, COVER, WHY?

  3. It’s a shame that your feelings about this novel were relatively lacklustre as I find the concept of “ghost brides”, which I had never heard of prior to this novel, absolutely fascinating! Plus, that cover, as you mentioned, it absolutely stunning and woud certainly raise my hopes as well.

    I do know what you mean about ‘average’ novels, though. I find they are often some of the most difficult reviews to write for as you tend to vacillate between the good and the bad and end up feeling rather ambivalent as a result, particularly if the work in question didn’t inspire any strong feelings one way or the other. I know I mentioned it in my last comment on another post, but I’m facing a similar problem with Kasie West’s The Distance Between Us. I neither loved nor hated it, and as a result I’m at a loss as to what to discuss in any sort of depth. This might also be at least partially to blame for why I’ve yet to finish writing my review despite having read the novel over two weeks ago, which is practically unheard of for me! Or that’s the excuse I’ll go with, anyway 😆
    Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Review: I Dream of Johnny by Juliet MadisonMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      The concept and writing were good. There was a lot of good. I just felt like it dragged on and on forever, and there was just too much time where nothing happened and not enough character development to make me not mind that.

      Awww, too bad about TDBU. I really enjoyed it, but West writes in a way that just resonates with me. That one’s not as good as Pivot Point though!

  4. Kayla Beck says:

    I read and reviewed this one a month or so ago, but I think I was literary-starved when I rated it. I did love the symbolism and the mythology (and the ghost bride idea!). Er Lang was pretty awesome, and I like who Li Lan chooses to be with at the end of the book. In comparison to all of the YA that I read these days, it was a breath of fresh air for the heroine to make a decision like that.
    Kayla Beck recently posted…Blog Tour (This or That & Giveaway): Fool’s Game by Heather HuffmanMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Literary-starved does happen. Sometimes I read too much YA and then I’m like OMG ADULT BOOK and I want to roll around in it. Haha. I did like the way she changed up the romance arc, but I wish ANYTHING had happened in the underworld, other than a way to set up the Little Mermaid ending.

      • Kayla Beck says:

        Yeah, the underworld did drag, but Er Lang!

        I’m making myself read more adult books, and it’s making me more honest with myself about what I like and what doesn’t work. I’m actually reading a mystery right now that is cute. I would’ve never thought…

        • Christina Franke says:

          I’ve been reading less because I chose a bunch of stinkers and then was like SCREW ALL OF YOU, but hopefully I’ll get back into them again soon. I don’t want to burn out on YA.

          • Kayla Beck says:

            I just don’t finish them if they’re bad. I used to think that I had to finish reading All The Books, but I don’t have time anymore, and there are too many fantastic ones that I could be reading instead.

            • Christina Franke says:

              But if I pass the DNF point, I HAVE TO FINISH. I can’t stop. And it’s awful and terrible, but at least my time is not wasted because I can whine about how boring it was on the internet.

              This one was fine until I’d been in the underworld enough to know nothing was going to happen there.

              • Kayla Beck says:

                If it’s for a blog tour that wants HONEST reviews (not that 3 stars or more crap), I’ll finish the book. Other than that, I’ve taken a “fuck this shit” attitude about it. My greatest (and used to be only) DNF is “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White. I loved it until about 40 pages from the end, and I was DONE. I did not have enough damns to give to get me through another half an hour of reading, even after reading 600+ pages.
                Kayla Beck recently posted…Blog Tour (Character Interview & Giveaway): Promise Me Light by Paige WeaverMy Profile

                • Christina Franke says:

                  UGH. I basically won’t work with any tour company but TLC anymore for that reason. I can’t promise you three stars.

                  I DNFed an epic fantasy about halfway through because I was done. But it was like book four and I never liked the series much, so I’m not sure that that’s an accomplishment.

                • Kayla Beck says:

                  YES! TLC is the best. I’m really starting to cut back on who I work with. I had another publicity group that I did reviews for, but they started asking for the 3 star minimum.

                  Which series was that? I’m the world’s worst about reading series. Hell, I don’t think I’ve read any sequels in ages.

                • Christina Franke says:

                  Ummm, that was….Firekeeper Saga by Jane Lindskold. It was ALL political maneuverings in this fantasy world. Not much action, blah characters, the romance was always glossed over. Ships would get together and marry off-screen. THE WORST.

                • Kayla Beck says:

                  I’ve not heard of that one, but I’ll damn sure not be reading it anytime soon. I love me some epic fantasy, but I don’t like crap happening behind the scenes.

                  By the way, have you read anything by Brent Weeks?

                • Christina Franke says:

                  Nope. Any good?

                • Kayla Beck says:

                  I’m enjoying it quite a bit. His world-building is fantastic. I’m halfway through Way of Shadows, and I have no idea where he’s going with it. Usually fantasy authors write to a formula, and this one is all over the place – in a good way.
                  Kayla Beck recently posted…Blog Tour (Review): Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia YuMy Profile

  5. Lynn K. says:

    All the pretty covers in the world could not prompt me to get this book during the Hungry Ghost Festival (about the time it showed up in the bookstores here). AND especially one with a local setting. *shivers*

    Ahh, those meh-ish books. Maybe the reading experience will be slightly better with the text version since we can control how fast we want to go (or skim). Still, I’ll read it later this year. I had no idea that she’d turn into a ghost too! Sounds interesting. o__o

    • Christina Franke says:

      Ha, because it’s too close to home?

      It might be better in print. It’s always hard to say. Sometimes audio makes them better and sometimes it makes them the neverending story.

  6. First, I uh-dore the new layout (although sorry if it is less new these days — am super behind on visiting folks).

    Second, bummer! Had been v intrigued by this one but now I think going to give it a pass.

    Third, am kind of over the author audiobook thing. Every time I listen to a sample of one, I’m very underwhelmed.
    Audra (Unabridged Chick) recently posted…The Study of Murder by Susan McDuffieMy Profile

  7. Michelle C says:

    I have an e-reader on my phone that allows me access to free books and this was one of them. I too was enamored by the cover and am disappointed to find that most that have read this book are giving it reviews similar to yours. I have not had the opportunity to read it yet, but it was the concept of the story that caught me. I hope I enjoy it better than some others I have read lately and it should be a refreshing change of pace for me from my “light reading” I have been doing. Thank you for your honest review of this book, it has helped me. 🙂

    • Christina Franke says:

      I have a few friends who absolutely adored it, so maybe it will work better for you in the print version. 🙂 There’s always hope.

  8. kara-karina says:

    Aw, I’m sad to know you haven’t enjoyed it, Christina! But at the same time I was the opposite of you – I only started enjoying the book when she went for her ghost journey. 🙂 Oh, well, thanks for at least trying it.
    kara-karina recently posted…The Postman Knock #50My Profile

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