The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho – An exquisite homage to love and life


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 she’s reconciled. Until her husband brings home a new bride.

Yonghua is an artificial woman crafted from terracotta. What she is may change hell for good. Who she is will transform Siew Tsin. And as they grow closer, the mystery of Yonghua’s creation will draw Siew Tsin into a conspiracy where the stakes are eternal life – or a very final death.

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, and avarice. True, this portrayal is deeply rooted to Chinese folklore, but Cho offers a fresh perspective by crafting a complex setting.

As someone familiar with the folklore and mythology surrounding The Terracotta Bride, I enjoyed the nuances of the story. Some parts of the story, particularly the dialogue, brought back memories of when I attended a traditional funeral (which, I have to admit, informed a lot of my understanding of this book) and was surrounded by family – some of whom I had never met before. I particularly enjoyed the cheeky prods at filial piety or lack of as well. In a way, reading this story was also a nostalgic experience.

Perhaps my favourite part of The Terracotta Bride is it is ultimately about life, death, and where love fits in between. There were subtle questions about existence – what it means to exist and what makes someone human – and whether existence and life/death are irrevocably tied together. This is explored through the eponymous terracotta bride – is she a what or a who? What does it mean to love? What is existence in the context of the afterlife? Mixing robots and the Chinese afterlife is a combination I would never have imagined, but its originality was ultimately genius and it worked wonderfully. Reincarnation/rebirth is briefly but profoundly explored as well, and I loved how it was so heart-wrenching but also how, at the end (or beginning?) of all things, it is a hopeful and transcendent path.

The beautiful thing about this story is that it paints a vivid picture, but also leaves room for your imagination and thought-provoking questions. Despite its very short length – a mere 11,000 words – The Terracotta Bride was absolutely brilliant and had the depth of a full-length novel. An exquisite short story.

Rating: 4/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Terracotta Bride
Author: Zen Cho
Format: Ebook

GoodreadsMy review on Goodreads

I know this short story is very difficult to get a hold of, but if it helps, you can purchase the eBook on Amazon! (Link to Amazon here.) But I loved this story, friends. It was quite an experience to read something that is associated with some sad memories, but it was nice. Good. Validating.

  • Have you read The Terracotta Bride? Or, have you read any of Cho’s other work?
  • What is a short story, that is about your heritage/identity, that you like? Any recommendations?
  • Do you like books that explore fate or transcendence?

25 thoughts on “The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho – An exquisite homage to love and life

  1. This sounds so amazing. This was immediately added onto my TBR, and I can’t wait to read it. Albeit, I know very little about Chinese mythology, but I have a vague familiarity with the idea of “levels” in (or courts as you said) Hell. I love that it’s a short story that’s still full of depth and emotion. Fantastic review, as usual, CW! 😊

    • Hi McKenzie!
      That’s okay if you don’t know Chinese mythology/folklore too well! I think it’s still pretty accessible and you can definitely still enjoy it. :D

      Aw, thank you! I hope you enjoy it when you read it. <3

  2. What a beautiful review, as always. I don’t read a lot of short stories but it seems like that one really had an impact on your despite its short length. I might have to try it out someday :)

    • Hi Marie!
      Hehe, I hope you get a chance to read it! It’s a great book and very short too – you could finish it in under an hour with no problems. <3 I hope you enjoy it if you choose to read it though!! :D

  3. The blurb itself sounds so unique and interesting, I immediately added it to my tbr before finishing your review! My knowledge of Chinese mythology is zilch but this book and your review definitely makes me want to explore the Chinese culture more, and what better way than to do it through books? Beautiful review CW. 💙

  4. A short story about my heritage that I recently read is Days of 71 by Jahanara Imam. It is a memorial as opposed to a story actually, and since the memorial is basically Imam’s personal diary which she kept during the liberation war of Bangladesh I would recommend it only if you have done a bit of research about the liberation war and Imam’s role in it (she was the mother of a martyr named Rumi who gave up his scholarship at Illinois Institute of Technology to instead fight for his country’s freedom). Anyway I digress but the memoir is so precious to me because Rumi was only my age when he died. To think that I am studying at a university and speaking my mother language and walking on the streets with my head held high is because 46 years ago someone my age had died to ensure I get these opportunities…it is humbling to say the least. And reading Imam’s diary, reading about her pain and grief and loss never fails to remind me that I need to do the best I can for these mothers who gave up their children so I can be a free woman today.

    • Hi Tanaz!
      Wow… I loved this comment; thank you so much for sharing Days of 71 with me.

      That would certainly be humbling… but I am happy to hear that this book serves as a beacon of hope and motivation for you. I think you’re doing great work, and you work so hard. I know you’ll accomplish wonderful things, my dear friend. <3

  5. I read this last month and really enjoyed it! I’m so fascinated by everything to do with the afterlife and it was great seeing a non-westernised version. I’m terrible with short stories and never seem to “get” them so this did lose me a little, but overall I LOVED it!! Great review, CW :D

    • Hey Lauren!
      Ahhhhh I’m so glad you enjoyed it!! Hehe, the Chinese folklore surrounding the afterlife is very interesting. I learned a lot about it last year when I visited my relatives. ^_^;

      Ahhh yes, I won’t lie, some parts were lost on me too, but I guess that’s generally the case of short stories when it can be too vague.

      Thank you so much, Lauren!! <3

  6. This book sounds truly amazing. I’m always recommended by Amazon and I guess for good reason. Definite must buy thanks to your beautiful and thorough review. First I need to finally read Sorcerer to the Crown lol.

    As always great review!

    • Hi Sanovia!
      It is! I’m thinking of holding a giveaway for it soon because it’s not that much and so many people are interested! :D But it is a lovely short story.
      Sorcerer to the Crown is AMAZING. It reads very much like Jane Austen (to me) but is so fun and wonderful. :D

      Thank you so much! <3

  7. Wow, I am definitely going to read this :) The description alone sounds very captivating and thoroughly imaginative. And it’s only $3 on Amazon too! Wh00t!

    Do you think you would have preferred to read a story at a full length novel, or at 11K words?

    • SHINGIE <3
      Yessss it's very affordable! I was lucky that my library had it, but I promise it'll be worth your money. :)

      Hmmm, I think it worked wonderfully as a 11k, and the story was written with its length in mind. Nonetheless, I would definitely love a full length novel that explores Chinese folklore about the underworld. :)

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