Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Recommended: yes, BUT…
For those who are interested in 1930s Shanghai (and let me tell you, everyone should be. It was a crazy and wondrous time), and emotional development of characters, and flexibility of mind to accept a very different culture and set of norms. Don’t have high expectations for action-plot or romance.
Camilla, an orphan raised by gangsters to be a spy, doesn’t feel. Love, hate, compassion – nothing can sway her from her mission to kill the rival gang’s boss, Master Lung. When a sassy new magician appears in the Shanghai nightlife scene, her position as top lady in town is threatened as well as her chance at Master Lung. Unwanted attention from Master Lung’s bodyguard, as well as his own son, start to complicate matters further. Camilla fights to stick to her training and stay away from love. Time is running out for her to complete her mission, and her own boss is getting impatient….
So what DIDN’T work for me was the romance and the amount of tangible action. The main romance was very weak and frankly, Jinjin annoys me as a useless whiny pretty boy. And even though this is a story around a trained assassin working in a world of top-tier gangsters… there was not nearly as much tension as you’d expect from that setup.
However, I really enjoyed reading this. The way it’s written is what I liked best, since the character is very consistent in her thoughts and actions. I felt a stab of pride understanding her many “The Art of War” references from reading it last year, and combined with the 36 Stratagems, I liked hearing her interpretations of them in her life. The descriptions of sex are odd and sometimes funny to a 2019 American woman (a woman’s “gate of mystery” will never not crack me up), but again, they felt fitting to the character and sometimes were actually rather beautiful. The writing and the setting were the strengths here for me, more than that actual events. Which seems kind of odd, now that I’m writing it out, but hey, I like what I like.