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 dangers to contend with — demons promoted from other courts, furiously upstanding and eager to hurry on the cycle of rebirth. 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 story follows a woman who has been married off by a family member to a rich man, because he wanted to manipulate another of his wives. Then there’s the Terracotta Bride herself. I don’t know what other people expected from this story; I didn’t really expect it to go quite in this direction, although it felt very appropriate. The ending is lovely, just right: even if you didn’t expect the exact direction of the story.
It’s a little bittersweet, but hopeful too. It really works.