REVIEW: The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho
A tale of first love, bad theology and robot reincarnation in the Chinese afterlife.
In the tenth court of hell, spirits wealthy enough to bribe the bureaucrats of the underworld can avoid both the torments of hell and the irreversible change of reincarnation.
It’s a comfortable undeath … even for Siew Tsin. She didn’t choose to be married to the richest man in hell, but she’s reconciled. Until her husband brings home a new bride.
Yonghua is an artificial woman crafted from terracotta. What she is may change hell for good. Who she is will transform Siew Tsin. And as they grow closer, the mystery of Yonghua’s creation will draw Siew Tsin into a conspiracy where the stakes are eternal life – or a very final death.
Dear Ms. Cho,
Sunita seriously tempted me to try one of your books with her review of The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo but it was a cover again that caught my eye while browsing at Amazon – like I need to browse for more books. Sigh.
After being promised love, religion and reincarnation via robots, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Turns out that’s probably for the best as to try and explain everything would give the game away. For a short story, it feels much more complete and complex than many stories twice the length. One thing I do want to make clear is that this is not a romance in the traditional sense. There might be a relationship that starts and tries for a HEA but in the end, it’s left nebulous as to whether or not this happens.
What is here is a marvelous, fascinating blend of Buddhist and Christian afterlife – after death? – set in a hell at once familiar and yet distinctly new. There are dead souls and demons and some of the famous terracotta warriors plus paper servants burned, along with cars, houses, money and even a piano, by pious descendants for the dead plus one new bride who is a mystery to most and a threat to some.
The writing is spare yet descriptive; the story is inventive and intricate. The ending is something I didn’t see coming yet I loved that with it, Siew Tsin takes control of her existence even as she takes a chance on her future. B+