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?
Mingmei Yip, author of Peach Blossom Pavilion and Song of the Silk Road, has created a captivating story filled with intrigue and opulence, peopled with extraordinary characters impossible to forget.
It all happened because I was considered perfect material to be a
spy—beautiful, smart, and, most important, an orphan.
I am well aware of what people call me behind my back: Skeleton
Actually, this does not bother me a bit. Let others feel spite, jealousy,
hatred for me. At times I feel a secretive, ticklish glee.
I am a woman who can turn men into skeletons under my touch, though it is as light as a petal and as tender as silk.
My name is Camilla. At nineteen, I’d already become the lead
singer at Shanghai’s most popular and elegant Bright Moon Nightclub.
It was through powerful connections that I got this position
at my young age, with the bonus of being the object of desire of
many men and the jealousy and hatred of countless women. And
then there were Shadow and Rainbow Chang.
They were the other skeleton women.
But unlike me, Rainbow and Shadow were not nightclub singers.
Rainbow, Shanghai’s most popular gossip columnist, made her fortune
by digging up secrets and dirt for the Leisure News. Though
she had a woman’s name, she exuded the charm of both sexes as
she rode the waves of in-between. Short haircut, silk tie, and outrageously
expensive and impeccably tailored suits contrasted with
white-powdered face, rouged cheeks, pink lips, silvery-pink eye
shadow, and long, lush, artificial lashes. Rainbow neither dressed
like a woman nor looked like a man. Exposing everyone else’s secrets
in her column, for herself she chose camouflage, in sex as well
as in life. But why? It was yet to be found out.
If Rainbow Chang presented herself as mysterious, then
Shadow was absolutely unfathomable. Everything about her was
staged like a magician’s stunning feats—jumping into thin air; escaping
from locked chains under water; cutting a volunteer into
multiple pieces, then restoring her in seconds. Carried out in a
skimpy dress, enhanced by snake-slick movements, with an expressionless,
stunningly beautiful face. Who was she? I was dying to
We used artists’ names; no one knew our real ones. With our
own agendas, we were the three most pungent ingredients in this
boiling cauldron called Shanghai. Men went crazy for a taste of us,
while women sought our elusive recipe.
People admired or hated me as the ultimate femme fatale. But I
myself had no idea who I was. I was a nobody, literally. An orphan,
I was adopted by a man and his gang for their own purposes. Later
I learned that the man was Big Brother Wang, his gang, the Red
Demons. Under their constant watching and fussing over me and
their strict discipline, by fourteen I’d grown up to be a watermelon-
seed-faced, full-bosomed, slim-waisted, long-legged beauty, possessing
everything desired by men and envied by women.
Of course I had not been raised and disciplined just to be a refined,
well-mannered lady to be married off to the son of a rich
family. Instead I was groomed to lure Master Lung, head of the Flying
Dragons gang, to his doom. I had quickly figured out that I’d
been given a roof over my head, fancy clothes to wear, and gourmet
food to consume for a reason.
I was raised and trained to be a spy.
I was to be the Red Demons’ secret weapon in a meticulous plan
to topple its bitterest rival, the Flying Dragons. For nineteen-thirties
Shanghai was the battleground for relentless wars among the triads,
wars in which I was to be merely a pawn.
And what a life that was.
Having schemed for most of my nineteen years in this dusty
world, I’d already turned a few men and women into skeletons
dangling in hell—literally or otherwise. I didn’t feel any guilt. This
was the only job, the only life, I knew.
This was how they had trained me—to have no attachment, no
feelings, no conscience. I was the woman who would, when
needed, reduce any man or woman to a skeleton at the blink of my
Until the day I met Master Lung’s son, Jinying, and Lung’s
bodyguard, Gao. But that was not part of the Red Demons’ plan
for me. . . .