Monday, April 17, 2017
Master Wu's Bride by Edward C. Patterson
This one is a bit different from my normal choice in books, but I have to say I'm really glad I took this one up. Set between the late 1300s and early 1400s in China, this is a unique look into a world way beyond ours (or my own American Pacific Northwest world, anyway) and how the lowest person can become the heart and soul of an entire family.
Chi Lin was arranged to marry Master Wu Hung-lin, head of the Wu household, as his fourth wife. However, when Wu Hung-lin meets an untimely death, Chi Lin is given a choice: either be shipped off to a nunnery or become Wu Hung-lin's ghost bride, married to his spirit and least of all his wives. Chi Lin accepts her fate as a ghost bride and becomes Mistress Purple Sage. She is sent to live in the Wu household, where it's clear she isn't entirely welcome. She's given a rundown pavilion to live in, hand-me-downs to wear, ancient and half-blind servants, and is made to do chores under the watchful eye of the Old Lady of the House and the shrewd First Wife. However, little by little, Chi Lin starts to make a name for herself and become a great influence in the House of Wu until she becomes the heart and soul of the family, never acknowledged but necessary and loved.
This story takes a very interesting dive into what it is to be a woman in ancient China, or really any woman in any time period when women's rights are scarce, if not nonexistent. They could very easily have gone the Cinderella route with this story, making her treated like a slave until a new life is just offered on a silver platter and whisks her way from hardship, but it doesn't do that. Chi Lin never gets whisked away, but makes the best of what she has and with hard work and a great attitude, she becomes a source of major change, all while staying incredibly humble. Though this world doesn't give her a lot of say or rights, she does everything she can within what rights she has and makes an impact.
Chi Lin, herself, is a really good character. She's kind, sympathetic, and almost never gets frustrated or angry (there's only one time in the book that she's frustrated and that's saying a lot). She's a dutiful ghost bride who does what she's told, even if it's at her expense, but never complains and adapts well. Through these quiet acts of duty and obedience, you can see how she's able to also impact the world that she's not supposed to touch. It's her job to oversee the operations of the salt business and she knows how to fix problems, but merely offers suggestions rather than demands things be done. At first, she's ignored but the suggestions stay in the minds of those in charge and are remembered and then acted upon. However, she's by far not a perfect character and can make mistakes, including one that could have been catastrophically bad, but uses her head to think things through and turn things in her favor. She's quick and clever and just a delight.
Sometimes, however, I felt things might have been resolved a little too well in some regards. That big mistake I mentioned earlier is resolved in a very convenient way and maybe a little too easily, but its impact is still a big deal in the story and emotions are remembered and felt throughout the book. It doesn't magically go away and there are consequences for the actions of those involved so, in that case, I guess it's okay. Also, when I checked this book out originally, it set up the First Wife to be this really nasty character and...yeah, she's definitely trouble for Chi Lin, but not quite to the degree I was expecting. I was thinking it'd be closer to "wicked stepmother" territory, with beatings and scoldings and messing up her work on purpose and getting her in trouble and that kind of thing. However, the First Wife never does anything like that. She and Chi Lin definitely don't get along and she certainly does her best to keep Chi Lin in a defeated state and at the bottom of the totem pole where (she feels) she belongs, but she doesn't go near as far as I was imagining. As such, she comes off as more of a nuisance than a downright antagonist. But these are nitpicks, really, and not necessarily flaws so they don't hurt the story.
The overall story is very laid back and taking in the wonder of Chinese traditions and how they work. There are some tense moments in the story, some really, really tense ones, but they're few and far in between. Again, it's just about the life of this one wife. It's how she deals with her servants, her nieces and nephews, the other wives, her in-laws and how each interaction brings her further into the life of this house and how she's able to use those interactions to her advantage. It's making the best with what you've got and life slowly returning the favor. There's a lot of Chinese terminology used throughout the book, but in a manner that even ignorant Americans like myself can figure out with little difficulty. It was simple, it was elegant, it told its story with great care to great effect.
By the time I was done with this book, I was beaming. It's a great story with a great lead, with marvelous setting and plenty of intrigue. I have another Edward Patterson book on my To-Read list and, if it's anything like this one, I'm looking forward to it. All in all, I'd say that this book is a welcome addition to the Shelf of Recommendation!
Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts. Find me on goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/65448711-michelle-beer and Follow me on Twitter @Michelle_Beer88
Next Time: Note to self. Refrain from buying cakes from a bakery run by a snake lady....