By the end of June, I was feeling a small slump licking around the corner, so I needed a way to remedy it as soon as possible. A fellow BookTuber (Katie Loves to Read) recommended a novella called The Terracotta Bride written by Malaysian author, Zen Cho. Katie had wonderful things to say about it and mentioned that it was relatively short in length. I went ahead and grabbed it on Kindle, and I must confess that for fifty pages, the novella packs a delightful little punch!
The novelette basically revolves around first loves and robotic reincarnation in the Chinese afterlife, specifically in the tenth court of hell, where spirits are wealthy enough to bribe the desk-jockeys of the underworld to avoid tormented punishment and the irreversible change of reincarnation.
Within fifty-one pages, we get a distinct beginning, middle, and end. There is such wonderful world-building and character growth within this tiny little narrative that it could very easily compete with large-scale fantasy stories, or even serials. I was so utterly blown away by it.
In 11,000 words, we are introduced to our cast, which span about four main characters and a couple of side characters. It’s not large at all. There is a distinct lack of unnecessary filler faces, which I appreciated immensely. Then we are introduced to a seemingly simple conflict, one that feels to be fuelled by envy. Afterwards, as the characters interact and plot progression begins to take shape, we are hit with an unbelievable twist! It was timed perfectly and wholeheartedly satisfying until the climax reached it’s finale. Stories that can remain consistent, even when there’s a complex air to the atmosphere, are my absolute favourites within the fantasy genre. The Terracotta Bride was no exception to that.
The pacing, initially, does have a gradual climb as we are familiarised with the setting; the components for which are richly steeped in Chinese cultural beliefs as it pertains to the afterlife. For folks who are unfamiliar with this, it can seem a bit odd and strange, yet utterly fascinating. For anyone who is already a bit acquainted with these elements of Chinese beliefs, it’s mesmerising and adds to the excitement as you ponder how it will play out to the narrative. Once all of the pieces are in position, the pacing does start to feel more normal, making it easier to absorb.
The fantasy elements are subtle and complement the pre-existing cultural details. There wasn’t an overly ambitious excess of complex themes that tend to sprout up with fantasy, usually making it feel forced and overwhelming. Because it was stunningly fluid in its execution, it does give you the opportunity to comprehend the overarching motif of the novella and the question of our own mortality, especially where love is concerned. Such a thought-provoking response from a novella has, to be perfectly blunt, never arisen from me before.
Overall, I highly enjoyed The Terracotta Bride and I recommend it to anyone who’s in the market for a short reading experience, and for fans of Asian, specifically Chinese, culture and practices.
4.25 kisses outta 5!