Full of Chinese villains, English heroes and brave virtuous women, this is a sprawling family saga of three generations of women.
Yip Mann, an elderly spice farmer, purchases fifteen-year-old Pai-Ling, as his concubine in the hope of producing sons. Pai-Ling has lotus feet and is beautiful but to Yip Mann’s dismay she delivers a worthless daughter. Yip Mann snatches the new born baby and goes to bury her in the paddy fields where he has buried his previous daughters. In a desperate bid to save her daughter Pai Ling throws herself out of the window and falls to her death. As Yipp Mann approaches the paddy fields a fox fairy appears, being superstitious and illiterate he is scared of the dreaded fox fairy and sees it as a sign to let the baby live. She is named Li-Xia – Beautiful One – by her father, not because of any fondness for her but because he thinks the name, along with her lotus feet, will fetch a higher price in the market when she is sold. But Li-Xia has inherited the fighting spirit of her rebellious mother, and with a little help from the compassionate Number Three wife of her father she escapes the crippling bandages. She knows from a young age that her feet will be her freedom. Against great odds she teaches herself to read her mother’s diary.
Sold off to a silk merchant, after many adventures and defiances she is saved from near death by a young English sea captain. Though they find great love and happiness together, it is short lived. Li-Xia becomes the victim of dynastic rivalry and a hostile society. She dies giving birth to her daughter Su Sing (Little Star). Su Sing’s journey takes her from the remote mountain refuges of interior China to the pre-world war I Macao and Hong Kong. Until the age of twelve she is raised by an elderly Taoist Sage Master To, who is master of the White Crane. He names her Red Lotus and teaches her everything he knows. After he is killed she begins a quest to find the father she never knew and to reclaim her birthright.
This is a beautifully written moving story, very sad in places and occasionally a tad twee. Nevertheless it's a compelling read, I was absorbed by the fates of the women, and China's turbulent history. I thoroughly enjoyed it