by Mingmei Yip
Plot Summary:Once upon a time in China, the most beautiful and gifted women were known as “skeleton women”—the ultimate femme fatales who could bring a man to his knees, or to his doom…
When Camilla, a young orphan girl in Shanghai, is adopted and brought to live in luxury, it seems like a stroke of luck. But as Camilla grows to womanhood, she realizes that her “rescue” was part of gang leader Big Brother Wang’s scheme. Camilla is trained in singing, dancing, knife-throwing and contortion—all to attract the attention of Wang’s enemy, the ruthless Master Lung.
Forced to become Master Lung’s mistress, Camilla meets two other intriguing women. Shadow is a magician and rival for Master Lung’s affections, while Rainbow Chang dresses like a man and wields power through her incendiary gossip column. Both pose risks to Camilla’s safety and status. But an even greater danger comes in the form of Master Lung’s eldest son, Jinying, who despises his father’s violent lifestyle—but loves Camilla. Only by plotting to eliminate Lung can she make her escape, but at what cost?
Expectations:From the plot summary this looked like an interesting character-driven suspense story, and I was looking forward to reading some historical fiction.
Review:Intrigue, suspense, cloaked motives, and an interesting insight to Chinese culture during the 1930s. This story pulled me in from the first page. Camilla, the ultimate skeleton woman, navigates the tricky path of performing her job as a spy of the Flying Dragons gang headed by Master Lung, vigilantly watching two other skeleton women who may cause her downfall, and dealing with two men who have fallen in love with her - one of which she might love back. It’s a plot full of complications, and Camilla’s smooth manipulations and careful navigation of volatile personalities is delightful to read. Characters who are so good at deception are fun! But Camilla only begins with such a cold heart, eventually her relationship with Master Lung’s son, Jinying and her interactions especially with Shadow start to thaw her out and cause her to reconsider her mission. The author has created a wonderfully smart, complex and flawed character in Camilla and it is Camilla that really carries the story.
The insight into Chinese culture during the 1930s - specifically Shanghai (it seems like it was a pretty wild town!) is very eye-opening and intriguing. I found the superstitions, the formalities, and the attitudes of Easterners towards Western influence to be very interesting and though I am not an expert, the author seems to have done a lot of research as all the details seemed historically accurate and vivid, making it easy to immerse myself into the story.
I really loved this book, although I had a few things that bothered me about it. The romance between Camilla and Jinying felt a little shallow sometimes, and there are a couple plot threads left hanging in the end, with the actual ending a little anti-climactic. But the journey with Camilla and the flowing style of the writing made this a wonderful escapist read.
review copy kindly provided by the publisher in connection with TLC Book Tours. Click on the image below to visit the other stops on this book's tour.