Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: 5 August 2014
Format: Paperback, 384 pgs
I've heard countless stories of the ghost brides, being on TV shows or stories told by the older generation. They are often either portrayed as a couple who are dead and in love and their families want them to be together in the other world, or human women (sometimes girls) to marry a dead man through arrangement by both families, under certain circumstances. Even now, I don't know if they are myths or not (and would imagine being told off by my grandmother should I asked her such topic, if she were still alive), I choose to believe half in them.
This story took place in 1893 in Malaya. Pan Li Lan is the daughter of a genteel Chinese family on the verge of bankruptcy. Her mother died when she was young, leaving her with an opium addict father and Amah, an elderly personal maid whom she looks upon as her grandmother.
Due to their financial state, the Pan family received a proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family, in which Li Lan's father is in debt with. However, the proposal is no ordinary proposal as they want Li Lan to marry Lim Tian Ching, their only son, who had died under mysterious circumstances.
To avoid the marriage and Lim Tian Ching's hauntings, Li Lan has consulted a medium but has accidentally took an overdose of some powder which is believed to ward off Lim's hauntings, thus resulting her soul to leave her body.
Not quite dead, Li Lan is able to see the ghosts and other demons which belong to the other world. Like the living world, the other world too has their system and order to ensure all things are in control. But of course like everywhere else, they also have briberies and corruptions even among the border officials.
Now in the Plains of the Dead, the towns and villages roughly correspond to the places above. Time seems to move erratically there, and there is nothing permanent at the Plains of the Dead, as the ghosts come and go as they move on to the Courts of Judgement, waiting for their sentence to be either punished or reborn, depending on the sins and/or deeds they had done when they were alive. The ghosts depend on their live family members to burn offerings to them, so that they can eat or spend like the human world. However, unlike the human world, the things at the Plains of the Dead bear no smell or taste except a resemblance of it, which is an explanation of them being made of paper as offerings.
Li Lan suspected that Lim Tian Ching has to do with the bribery, since he seems to have some power with the underworld officials. There are also speculations that there are rebellions in the Courts of Hell, which Li Lan has heard from Er Lang, a deity-like being she met. Er Lang wants to find out if there are more other than Lim Tian Ching for the rebellions, and he needs Li Lan as a spy to help him out. Likewise, Li Lan needs Er Lang's magical powers to get over the obstacles which are thrown into her path.
What happens next is a series of incidents that Li Lan encounters which put her in danger; and through Er Lang's countless help they have somewhat forged a bond one could never forget.
Whether if all is a mystical myth or if there are some truth to some incidents, I've to say I quite enjoyed this story. The journeys Li Lan traveled often left me both curious and worried, because I'd no idea what is in store for her and most of all, who is telling the truth and if one could even trust the ghosts, or things alike?
I also have to add that one could learn a great stuff of Chinese folklores and Chinese traditions through this story. I think the details are quite informative to readers who are not familiar with them.
As for the ending, I've to say it's quite subjective and that it's a twisted one. Honestly I was fine with it (don't ask me more or I'd babble).