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The Terracotta Bride

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  842 Ratings  ·  170 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 s
Kindle Edition, 51 pages
Published March 10th 2016
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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
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
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
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
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 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.

Neko Neha (BiblioNyan)
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: chinese-lit
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
Silvana [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!!!
Ana Rînceanu
I don't know what I was expecting, but this novella blew away all my expectations...
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!
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
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.
Marianne (Boricuan Bookworms)
Okay... I'm slightly disappointed because I was told it had a f/f romance (there isn't a clear romance, though there are slight nods here and there). However, the writing is beautiful and I would have loved to keep reading more about the intricate world.
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
Sinead (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 25, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

In The Terracotta Bride, the dead in the Tenth Court of Hell (the circle to live in) pass the time much as they ever did. The afterlife differs from real life only in the absence of money (one is dependent on one's living descendants burning money in one's honour), and the keen desire to avoid leaving Hell in order to be reborn as someone/something different. Zen Cho uses this conceit to skewer the materialistic, the self-absorbed, the licentious, on whom Purgatory is wasted.
Siew Tsin
Mar 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: china
Only 0.99 for a short time... click...

I'm brain-dead because I've got so much going on right now. Hope to maybe write a proper review later.

This was a really great short story. The setting and the plot were very unique and interesting.

This is also very Chinese, which I absolutely loved. I'm studying Sinology, so that was a huge plus for me. YAY DIVERSITY!

Definitely want to read more by the author.

Genre: shortstory, fantasy/myths
Tags: Chinese, religion, afterlife
Rating: I've g
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
Apr 25, 2017 rated it liked it
"The Terracotta Bride" has something like an AI as a main character, and the setting is a Malaysian version of the afterlife, and those aspects created some interesting parallels with the two books I'd read just previously.

The story has some intriguing themes about how women make their way in patriarchal society. Unfortunately, though, I didn't feel a very strong connection with any of the characters with the possible exception of first wife Ling'en, who is making her own way in hell and also h
Amy Sturgis
What have I leaned? I must read more works by Zen Cho. Splendid writing, Buddhism and Taoism, an entire story set in Hell — beautifully done.
This is fascinating - afterlife as VR, infiltrated by AI, with the incorporation of traditional myth and ritual. Highly recommended.
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 n
Sep 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jessica by: Claire
I read this novella because Claire said I might like it more than I did Sorcerer to the Crown, and she was right! It's a weird little story that plays with Chinese concepts of hell and reincarnation and is probably best approached without knowing much about it, so I'll keep my description brief: The narrator is a second wife coming to terms with her husband's unusual choice in a third wife, and slowly allowing herself to have interests and desires instead of just passively going along with the l ...more
Young woman struggling to make her way in the afterlife meets another young woman with a Dark Secret, and then--the story goes abruptly very sideways of how I thought the plot was heading. I appreciate that shock of surprise, and the worldbuilding is fabulous, but I can't help but feel like the twist ultimately resulted in a somewhat unsatisfying story, as so much of the build-up is for naught. I'd like to reread it and see how the twist works once you know what's coming; if the build-up is stil ...more
Apr 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
A pleasant, intriguing adventure. It left me wanting just a tiny bit more, particularly the development of her relationship with the new bride, but the story felt full and the heroine's journey concluded, and ending softly. I felt satisfied upon finishing it, and now must stop reading all these short novels and immerse myself in a longer piece that won't end before my heart is ready to depart from the characters.
This was completely and utterly perfect! I hadn't heard of the author before but I saw a friend review it on goodreads and it sounded like all my most favourite things. I love Chinese religion, and queer stories and this was both. It was done perfectly. An interesting main character, a well realised setting (being Hell!) with twists and turns that were unexpected. I now want to read everything Zen Cho has written. I can't recommend this highly enough.
Mar 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016, owned
Original and imaginative and beautifully written. Completely not what I expected, plot-wise. Oddly frustrating, but in a very clever way. Unfortunately, I appreciated it more intellectually than viscerally. I suppose there is something that makes me connect much more with secondary than with POV characters in Zen Cho's fiction, at least based on this and The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo.
Melissa Jacobson
This was such a beautiful, imaginative, and breathtaking novella. I adored every word of it. Everything from the amazing setting to the surprising characters and plot was amazing and I gasped several times due to a plot twist I hadn't expected. I cannot recommend this novella enough!
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I'm a Malaysian fantasy writer based in London. I've written a novel called Sorcerer to the Crown about magic, intrigue and politics in Regency London, and a short story collection called Spirits Abroad. Plus some other stuff! I've won a British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer and the Crawford Fantasy Award, and been nominated for a Locus Award and the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Find out ...more
“Siew Tsin had not given much thought to what happened in the afterlife until the afterlife happened to her.” 2 likes
“Resignation to unhappiness didn't come naturally—she had to learn it.” 2 likes
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