Ghost Bride is about a lady in 1800’s Malaysia who is maybe gonna be betrothed to some dead guy? Apparently it’s a Malayan cultural practice.
WHY I PICKED IT UP:
The dust jacket promised me several things I like—a period setting, a merger with the spirit world, and an exotic locale. Add some forbidden romance into the mix and it sounds just like a fairy-tale.
WHERE/WHY I STOPPED:
I’m at page 16/22 in the sample, in which our main character is en route to visit the dead suitor’s not-dead mom. And I’ve got to admit, I only read this far because I couldn’t sleep last night.
Don’t get me wrong—this book is by no means bad—there’s just not a whole lot going on right now for something that promised me so much.
To give you an idea, I’ll paraphrase the entire first chapter:
Dad: Hey, some rich family asked me if you’d marry their son, but he’s all dead and stuff.
Main Character: That’s kind of sucky. Why would you even tell me about that?
Dad: They’re like, super rich. And we’re not anymore…
MC: Are you forcing me to marry him?
Dad: Nah, think I’ll just do some opium. Bye now.
Nanny: You were talking about marriage with your dad just now, right?
MC: Yeah, but I’m not gonna do it becau–
Nanny: But you should TOTALLY get married! It’s like, what women DO, you know?
MC: But it’s to a dead guy.
Nanny: Oh no he didn’t, girlfriend! Why would your dad even tell you about something like that?
MC: I know, right?
WHAT COULD BE BETTER, IF ANYTHING:
Don’t misconstrue—it’s good that we’re not overloaded with ghost lovers and spirit-world shenanigans from the get-go–but there’s one fundamental element your main character MUST have in order for the story to go anywhere: a Desire, and preferably one which conflicts with another of their desires. AND you have to highlight that for the readers. If your main character is content, it’s boring because there’s nothing he NEEDS to do to be happy.
Let’s look at some case studies now. The Little Mermaid wants to be with her prince, but has to sell her fins, family, and voice—the very thing which attracted the prince to her—in order to do so. Katniss Everdeen wants to survive and feed her family, but when her pre-teen sister is selected to fight in a bloodbath, Katniss has to decide whether she’ll watch her sister be killed or stand in for her sister and thereby be unable to provide food for the family anymore. Wile E. Coyote can’t catch the roadrunner, but refuses to quit trying, though it costs him more than dinner in the end. Make your characters think there’s no way out and they’ll have to do interesting things.
The titular Ghost Bride in this novel doesn’t share her hopes or dreams with the audience, and so it reads like there’s nothing at stake. Plus, there’s no foreshadowing that tells me it’s going to happen.
RECOMMENDATION: DON’T READ
Depending on whether I can sleep tonight, I might read on just to find out how long it takes for our MC to reach that ‘precipitating event,’ but I’ll probably just go back to playing videogames and planning my honeymoon.
Let me know how you liked the Ghost Bride, or whether you’ve had trouble reading or writing characters who lack inner conflict.