In the mountains of Northern China ancient custom demands that every man have a wife to keep him company in the afterlife.
Deshi Li’s brother is dead–and unmarried. Which means that Deshi must find him an eligible body before the week is up.
Lily Chen, sweet as a snakebite, needs money and a fast ride out of town.
Haunted by the gods of their ancestors and the expectations of the new world, Deshi and Lily embark on a journey with two very different destinations in mind. They travel through a land where the ground is hard and the graves, where marriage can be murder and where Lily Chen is wanted–dead and live.
The Undertaking of Lily Chen makes the best possible use of the graphic novel format. It uses text when needed and lets the art speak for itself adding a second layer to the story. Art that is stunning and emotive and adds a humourous note to the story.
The story examines the Chinese custom of ghost brides and explores how far someone is willing to go for someone who is already dead. It reveals the people who take advantage of those who are grieving in order to make ridiculous sums of money in the underground world of grave digging. Deshi must decide if he’s willing to commit murder to find a bride for his brother on the request of his parents whom he doesn’t get along with to fulfill a custom he does not necessarily believe in.
Lily too wishes to escape her home and start a new life. She acts naive and innocent but may in fact be much more down to earth and aware of reality than is first suspected. Lily is strong and upbeat, the perfect counterbalance to the quiet, serious Deshi.
The story is well paced, and makes good use of its 430 pages. It exists on the fine line between mysticism and reality, love and hate, life and death. The ending is extremely well done and satisfying, dramatic yet sad, and it concludes the story line while leaving the future open. I can find no fault with any part of the story, however, I was unable to connect with it – not from a cultural point of view – but the novel just didn’t speak to me in any way.
I would still recommend it to fans of graphic novels – perhaps it will speak to you more than it did to me.