Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother’s belly. When the groom dies before a wedding can take place, seventeen-year-old Spring Swallow is ordered to become a ghost bride to appease his spirit. Under her in-laws’ protection, she will be little more than a servant, unable to know real love or bear children. Refusing to accept her fate as a “bad-luck woman,” Spring Swallow flees on her wedding day.
In the city of Soochow, Spring Swallow joins a community of renowned embroiderers. The women work for Aunty Peony, whose exquisite stitching once earned her the Emperor’s love. But when Aunty Peony agrees to replicate a famous painting–a lucrative assignment that will take a year to complete–betrayal and jealousy emerges within the group. Spring Swallow becomes entangled in each woman’s story of heartbreak, even while she embarks on a dangerous affair with a young revolutionary. On a journey that leads from the remote hillsides around Soochow to cosmopolitan Peking, Spring Swallow draws on the secret techniques learned from Aunty Peony and her own indomitable strength, determined to forge a life that is truly her own.
Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip is the story of Spring Swallow a young Chinese woman who comes of age in the tumultuous 1930’s in and around Peking. Chinese culture is in flux, Western missionaries are ever more present, revolutionaries are stirring in the mountains and universities but old cultural traditions and social norms are not yet forgotten. I requested this historical novel (it is not a historical romance) because I was intrigued by the setting, and time period. Last year when I struggled to find historical romances to enjoy, I found the most success the farther I moved from England and the Regency. Jeannie Lin’s The Lotus Palace and Jenn Bennett’s Bitter Spirits were two of my favorite books last year. Continue reading