Secret of a Thousand Beauties

Secret of a Thousand Beauties
Mingmei Yip

Kensington Books

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“. . . should please readers of women’s fiction.”

Scarlett O’Hara has nothing on Spring Swallow, the heroine of Secret of a Thousand Beauties. This young heroine in 1930s China has to endure many tragedies, lost husbands, poverty, and hard work in order to survive. At the tender age of seventeen, she is forced into a ghost marriage—a marriage to a dead man she was promised to before both of them were born. She bravely runs away so she isn’t forced to slave away for her in-laws without the chance of happiness or having children of her own. But the choice she makes to leave her village is more than daring—it’s dangerous. How will she fend for herself?

As luck would have it, Spring Swallow meets another lost soul who takes her to a house on the side of a haunted mountain. There she becomes an apprentice to Aunty Peony, a cold and calculating master embroiderer with a dark past. She learns the “secrets of a thousand beauties” in the Su tradition of embroidery and experiences jealousy and betrayal alongside the other “sisters” as they work on an embroidered painting to enter a competition. Spring Swallow’s walks on the mountain bring her to the notice of a young revolutionary, Shen Feng, and at last she feels she has found true love. But of course nothing is easy for Spring Swallow. She continually faces ever more challenges and disappointments as her lover goes off to follow his dream of a better China.

Rich in detail, the story feels like it takes place one hundred years or more earlier than the 1930s, as the characters are steeped in ancient superstitions and fear of ghost hauntings. The characterization of Spring Swallow as a capable young woman who follows her heart is its biggest draw and should please readers of women’s fiction.

Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews