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The Terracotta Bride

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  1,692 ratings  ·  336 reviews
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
Kindle Edition, 51 pages
Published March 10th 2016 (first published October 1st 2011)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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Elena May
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An explosive mix of Buddhism, Taoism, and science fiction!

Siew Tsin dies young and ends up in Hell. But that’s not real death. Real death comes with reincarnation, when one forgets their old life and is reborn. Almost no one wants this, and so all spirits struggle to remain in Hell for as long as possible. And, naturally, the way to do this is to keep bribing the demon-officials. How do they get money for bribery? Their living relatives need to burn it for them as an offering. If your relatives
Dannii Elle
The ten courts of hell in the Chinese afterlife are seen through the eyes of a girl who was taken from life too soon and consigned to live there. She is married to a man who doesn't love her. His protection saves her, but she is an unhappy and lonely creature. That is, until her husband takes a new wife who is perfect in every way a wife should be. She is perfect because she never lived at all, his new terracotta bride.

I was not expecting such beauty or poignancy from this 50 page short story! C
Sep 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is the third story by this author that I've read and once again she didn't disappoint - the story was just as vibrant as I had hoped!

Chinese afterlife, much like actual life, is quite different from Western expectations. But as in life, so in hell does bureaucracy rule everything and you can bribe your way to the tenth circle where you can spend your time free of torture and with no hurry to enter the cycle of reincarnation.
The money and wealth necessary for that comes from the offerings yo
CW (The Quiet Pond) ✨
After reading Cho's spectacular Sorcerer to the Crown, I was an instant fan. I was thus inevitably drawn to The Terracotta Bride - a fantasy short story that plunges us headfirst into the throes of the Chinese afterlife.

Drawing from Chinese mythology and and folk religion, Cho evokes dark, haunting, but strangely beautiful imagery when describing the tenth court of Hell. The portrayal of Hell was fascinating, particularly the commentary on what we carry onto the afterlife - greed, bureaucracy, a
K.J. Charles
A joy of a book, set in a version of the Chinese hell, where the wealthy attempt to buy their way into comfort while avoiding going on to the next life. It's the story of a rich man's three wives: the older woman he really wants back, the young devastatingly shy girl he married to make her jealous, and the animated (golem in a steampunky way) terracotta one.

Beautiful worldbuilding (the terracotta army as marauding thugs is a detail of quiet genius), lovely characterisation, some thought-provoki
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
In barely more than 50 pages, Zen Cho manages to create an enthralling underworld where spirits are sent to cleanse themselves of their sins before rebirth. The amazing thing is she manages to incorporate a 'Robot-AI' theme into what I thought would be a straightforward Chinese mythological tale. The terracotta bride, which this short story is named after, is actually an advanced experimental automaton, created to enable 'wealthy' spirits in the underworld to transfer their consciousness to, for ...more
Peter Tieryas
Mar 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Terracotta Bride is a beautiful mix of mythology, contemporary culture, and history that I couldn’t stop reading once I’d begun. The story takes place in hell which, surprisingly, is as bureaucratic a mess as real life. Demons and gods have their own agendas and money can buy your way out of most troubles. The novelette revolves around Siew Tsin, second wife to Jungshen. Even if the story had been just about Siew Tsin navigating her way around hell and the relationship of Jungshen with his f ...more
This is more a peek into a version of Chinese after-life mythology than an f/f romance. I've had no exposure to this version of life after death so it was pretty fascinating. Despite the lack of a clear cut f/f romance, it's an interesting little tale and the f/f overtones still exist.

The story is through the eyes of Siew Tsin, a young woman that died and is married off as the second wife to a rich man in the afterlife. When the third wife comes along there's some mystery as to what she is and w
Sue (Hollywood News Source)
The eight thousand terracotta warriors who had been buried with an emperor, now lost. Left masterless, the warriors roamed the tenth court, looking for trouble. And worst of all, the dead. In hell, as in every other world, man was man's greatest enemy.

The author described this SFF short story as, "vaguely gothic queer fantasy with retrofuturistic flourishes." I couldn't agree more. The Terracotta Bride is luscious, brave, and otherworldly. Those adjectives are quite literal since the book is set
Mar 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Not my favorite from Zen Cho, but that was also due to misleading expectations: I was told this was an f/f romance, and while it has sapphic characters, I wouldn't describe it as such, not like I would with Zen Cho's novelette If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again. Still, it was a lovely read. It's set in hell, where the main character - a Malayan girl named Siew Tsin - has been forced to marry a man after her death; now the man has taken yet another wife, a terracotta wife. It's a light ...more
Mar 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: supernatural
Genre: Supernatural/Fantasy

Need a Buddhist take on the afterlife? Look no farther.

The story is very tight; the POV is from one character. Characterization is quite good although more of Siew Tsin's inner thoughts and reaction to an intimate moment would've added clarity and emotional power. On the other hand, Siew Tsin comes across as a little detached, shell-shocked, or in survival mode.

The style of the dialogue reminds me of the celestial beings in Monkey: The Journey to the West.

Skye Kilaen
Feb 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 0-genre-fantasy
Fascinating fantasy short set in the Chinese conception of Hell. A young woman named Siew Tsin is married against her will to a rich man in the afterlife. When he brings home a third wife, made of terracotta (basically a robot), Siew Tsin is intrigued, then develops a crush on Yonghua. There's more going on than Siew Tsin realizes, though, because Yonghua's existence threatens to change the rules of reincarnation.

It's a short story that feels much bigger, without feeling crowded, like an amazin
Oct 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
After reading a bunch of them, I've figured that SFF novellas/short stories need a really strong, unique worldbuilding concept that will stick in readers' minds for a much longer time than it took to read the story. And if robot reincarnation in the Chinese afterlife doesn't do it, then I don't know what will.

My Highlights:

✨ I repeat - robots in the Chinese afterlife!!! Talk about an inspired combination of science fiction and fantasy, alongside elements of Chinese folklore and mythology.
sil ♡ the book voyagers
This was such an interesting and beautiful novella that I wish it was a full novel. I was very intrigued by the storyline and the whole plot. I love books taking place in hell to be honest, it makes everything dangerous and shed in a new light. The hell from Zen Cho's eyes was filled with demons, fortunes, magic potions, social standing, and in the center of it all, Chinese culture. It was amazing and I said I wish there was MORE!!! ...more
Rachel (TheShadesofOrange)
Sep 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
3.0 Stars
More interesting than creepy, this was an interesting piece of diverse fantasy. Exploring Chinese beliefs and traditions around death, I was surprised by the corporal nature of this imagined afterlife. I liked the idea, but I personally need more plot in my stories. 
Nov 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-s-books
oh this is so beautiful and so so sad at the same time.
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Terracotta Bride is a short story/novella set in a very particular sort of afterlife: a bureaucratic one, in which people live (er, death?) very much as the living do, though they rely on the offerings of their descendants for money, food, and whatever else becomes necessary. So the saying that ‘hell is other people’ is literally true, especially for the protagonist of the story. It’s a pretty un-Western setting, and Cho expects the reader to keep up. Like this bit:

"There were so many other
I don't know what I was expecting, but this novella blew away all my expectations... ...more
mina reads™️
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtq, about-poc, sff, wlw
3.75 stars this was such an intriguing concept, thought provoking with beautiful writing. I loved this but I wish this could have been a full length novel or at least a longer novella.
Amy (libraryofamy)
Dec 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was only 40ish pages long yet it made my heart ache? So beautiful.
The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho was relatively short but still packed an emotional punch.

It’s the story of Siew Tsin - a Chinese Malaysian woman - who died as a young girl and now resides in Hell as the second wife of an older, wealthy Chinese man. Being in Hell is not real death. Real death comes with you drink auntie Ming’s tea that makes you forget your old life and you reincarnate back to earth where the whole circle begins anew. Most of the spirits don’t want this, and so they struggle to r
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbt
The 4th book of 24h read-a-thon!

4,25 stars

A great novella that is focused around the idea of Chinese hell and talks in detail about the topic of self-identity and human soul. The writing is beautiful, the characters have much more depth to them than you would expect from 50 pages. I'm seriously impressed and I will definitely check out more of Zen Cho's stories in the future!
Wiebke (1book1review)
I basically read this in a sleepless night and oh how approapriate to read about a woman in hell when you can't sleep.
I really enjoyed the look at this kind of hell, the life of this woman (Siew Tsin), the portrayal of men alive and deead as well as the pain love inflicted on her.
read this on a whim because it was available on scribd, and was BLOWN AWAY. i can't believe i've put off zen cho's stories for so long. these are so queer and so malaysian and so GOOD. ...more
Sinead Anja (Huntress of Diverse Books)
Check out my book blog for more book reviews and other bookish posts!

I’d been meaning to read The Terracotta Bride for quite some time, so I immediately took the opportunity to use it for one of the squares in Asian Lit Bingo. It features a Chinese Malaysian MC, so I was really excited because this is the first book I’ve ever read with a Malaysian MC.

It’s an #ownvoices story.


Excellent worldbuilding! It’s very well-structured and I was able to picture the Chinese afterlife very well.

The story p
May 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this sapphic novella! Based on Chinese folklore, this story is set in the tenth circle of Hell where rich people can bribe demons so they can stay and not be reincarnated. Siew Tsin is the second wife of such a man; she's young and naive. Things change when her husband gets a third wife, the terracotta bride from the title, and how this affects Siew Tsin as well as the first wife.

Great writing and enjoyed the ending! Tbh I'd love to read a full length novel.

Rep: Malay wlw main
Shira Glassman
An intimate drama of the home focusing on just a few characters, but in a paranormal setting. Zen Cho's worldbuilding and storytelling are a joy. I'm afraid this review isn't going to be as thorough as it deserves, but if Asian diaspora fantasy/paranormal with f/f in it interests you at all, give this one a try. (Edited to add: see, this is how you worldbuild. I always understood what she was talking about, even though I am 100% new to this culture to the point where I don't know what's Cho and ...more
This was what Siew Tsin hated about men, she thought suddenly, to her own surprise. She had not realised before that she hated men. But she did, and this was one of the reasons why: this incessant demand for sympathy and interest from every woman in the vicinity. Junsheng did not like Siew Tsin, he did not even know her, and yet he was extending this appeal to her. It was a sticky thing, his need, with tentacles that would strangle her if they could.

This was a very intriguing short story. It mi
Mar 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
I loved this little story so hard it hurts.

It's about death and love and reincarnation and what it means to have a soul, and about pain (and numbness) and acceptance of ourselves and others, and about going through life (or death) with your eyes open, and about showing kindness and taking initiative - and I could really just keep on with a stream of consciousness because there's so much going on.

But it's also just a really lovely, really compact little story about love, loss and recognising tha
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I'm a Malaysian fantasy writer based in the UK. I've written a novel called Sorcerer to the Crown about magic, intrigue and politics in Regency London; a sequel about cursed sisters, anticolonial witches, dapper dragon dandies and murderous fairies called The True Queen; and a short story collection called Spirits Abroad. Plus some other stuff! I've won a British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, t ...more

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36 likes · 11 comments
“Goodbye," said Siew Tsin.
"See you next time," said Lady Meng, more accurately.
"Will you remember me when I come again?"
"Of course," said Lady Meng. "I miss you every time.”
“She had still had the loved child's belief that it would not be allowed for anything too bad to happen to her.” 3 likes
More quotes…