The Terracotta Bride || Zen Cho || Fantasy, Supernatural, Contemporary
“This time, let us hope you will get to be old,” she said. “It is a great suffering to know youth only.”
When Siew Tsin dies, she doesn’t expect to find herself the second wife of the richest man in hell. It’s not an uncomfortable existence, though a bit lonely, a bit isolated. But when her husband brings Yonghua home, trouble follows––Yonghua is a girl made of terracotta, and so she can never die, nor is she truly alive. Though standoffish at first, Siew Tsin and Yonghua eventually become friends, and the course of their friendship changes their perspectives on what it means to live––and die.
The novella (novelette, technically, but for tagging purposes I’m considering this a novella) is written in Cho’s signature style––light and funny, but earnest and heartbreaking––which complements the tone of the story quite well. There’s not so much I can say without spoiling it, but I really enjoyed way the plot developed, I liked its ponderings on life and personhood, and of course I loved the mythology because it’s the same mythology I grew up with, informed by a different context.
I enjoyed the dynamic between the wives––there was a certain tension, but it wasn’t a destructive or petty tension, it was a tension that leant itself to all sorts of possibilities, and which was in itself sort of complicated by the presence and role of the husband, Junsheng, who isn’t necessarily a Bad Guy but who is (for me at least) still completely repulsive.
There’s also––as there often is in Cho’s work––some discussion of diaspora and the shock that Siew Tsin feels at being taken to Diyu after her death, rather than any Christian afterlife, as she grew up in convent school and her family has converted to Christianity. It was just enough that it didn’t feel like she disregarded it, but not so much that it bordered on maudlin angst, and it added a texture to the novella that I think coloured my understanding of the narrative
TL;DR: queer romance set in the Chinese afterlife with ancient mecha and deliberations on agency, personhood, and the cost of living. It’s also like, super cheap on Amazon and a quick read (even quicker than The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo) on a commute to an existential crisis. At least, it was for me.
Muren blev 6000 kilometer lång, sex kungariken blev ett Det var kungen av Tsin, Chi-Huang-Ti Som blev orsak till kinesiska hostan Den svåra brandrökhostan i Kina Hostan spreds från miljoner bål Där Kinas Go a chance.