Real life has been interfering with my recreation a lot lately, so this blog has rather fallen by the wayside. Mea culpa! Still, even if I haven’t been here to blather at you about it, you can bet I’ve been reading. Here are two of my recent favorites. And if you notice a certain theme, well, what can I say? A girl knows what she likes. 😀
The Ghost Bride, Yangsze Choo — Yangsze Choo’s debut novel is the kind of story that makes someone like me go “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that.” Pan Li Lan, a young woman living in late-19th-century Malaysia, receives an offer of marriage–from the family of a dead man. It would mean security for life, but Li Lan is being troubled by eerie dreams of her would-be ghostly groom and isn’t quite prepared to marry someone who’s not only dead, but a creep. Yet when an attempt at barring the ghost from her mind goes drastically wrong, Li Lan may get a chance to confront her tormentor face-to-face, uncovering the tale of how the young man died and discovering who she wants to be.
This book hit all the right notes for me. There’s a touch of romance (though from an unexpected corner), a whiff of haunting, and when the second act takes us through Choo’s version of the Chinese afterlife, we follow Li Lan into a truly eerie world of paper people and ghost lights. Li Lan herself is in an awkward position, struggling to figure out what she wants from life and to separate the desires of her heart and her head. As for Er Lang … well, I’ll leave you to meet Er Lang. Adorable little stinker.
The Corpse-Rat King, Lee Battersby — I described this on my Facebook page as “Terry Pratchett via Burke and Hare,” and I stand by that. The Corpse-Rat King is the tale of one Marius, a professional liar, thief, and gentleman of misfortune, who robs the wrong body on the wrong battlefield and ends up dragged down into the stygian pits by the dead themselves, who believe that God has forsaken them and want a king–God’s anointed–to of their own to make things right. Marius proves not to be the king they want, and they release him in a somewhat zombified state, with orders to either fetch them a king or suffer extreme consequences. After all, where can you run that the dead won’t follow?
Marius lives in a big, sprawling, pseudo-medieval fantasy world, with just enough conscious parody to make me think of Pratchett’s Discworld. The details, though, are suitably grimy, and Marius’s own disgusting profession and degenerating condition lend a ripe touch of body horror to the proceedings. Marius himself may owe a little to George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman (or, if you prefer, Sandy Mitchell’s Ciaphas Cain), being a coward and liar who’s out for himself but somehow ends up being called upon for heroism. And he delivers, too–cursing and complaining all the way. As he flees from his responsibilities he meets multiple kings, has a memorable underwater encounter with a lunatic, gets told off several times by his now-dead apprentice, pines after the girl of his dreams, and falls in a lot of gross substances. Black humor is definitely the order of the day.