BOOK TOUR REVIEW: Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip
by Mingmei Yip
Skeleton Women is a Chinese phrase for femmes fatales. This story is about three of them — Camilla, a nightclub singer who has been forced to become a spy, Shadow a magician who jumps naked off a tall building, and a gender-ambiguous gossip columnist. All must scheme in order to survive the gang wars in lawless 1930s Shanghai.
Camilla is a young orphan when she is adopted by a master crime lord and turned into the singing sensation of Shanghai. She lives in luxury but knows none of the wealth is really hers. She is one of the skeleton women, who lure men to their ruin and death. In her case, it’s literal, since she is also trained in knife-throwing and contortion.
Her assignment: attract the attention of another crime lord and help see he is assassinated. But can she stay in his good graces with competition from Shadow, a famed magician, and Rainbow Chang, the ambiguously sexed gossip columnist? And will she be able to resist falling for either the gang lord’s son or his hunky bodyguard?
MY THOUGHTS: 3 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
Camilla was plucked from an orphanage at 14 years old and trained to become a skeleton woman–a dangerous double agent who’s working for one mob boss to destroy his rival. As Camilla becomes deeper ingrained into the gang, she not only has to be the mistress for its’ leader, Master Lung, but she must attempt to steal his financial information and assassinate him as well.
As if this weren’t enough, Camilla’s life becomes more complicated when an enigmatic female magician named Shadow comes to Shanghai. The normally icy exterior Camilla puts on begins to crumble when she starts experiencing jealousy, friendship–and maybe even love.
This book hooked me from the very beginning, but it did take a while to build anticipation. I quite liked Camilla, I just found myself confused at many of her choices.
Camilla does what she needs to do to keep herself not only alive, but thriving. She is a master in flattering a man and getting what she wants. But while she has much luck in her relationships with men, she has no other successful bonds to speak of. As an orphan, she of course has no family. She also has no girlfriends, but I’m not sure if it’s because she’s so stand-offish or other women are simply jealous of her.
I think the author has a gift for characterization and world building. The story takes place in Shanghai in the 1930’s, and I could envision the opulence of the era quite vividly. Great care is taken to describe what characters are wearing and what places look like, but it never feels over-described. I got a good feel for each of the important characters in this story, which was nice because sometimes that doesn’t happen in a book that is told in first person.
As the book went on, I couldn’t wrap my head around Camilla’s reasoning for some of the things she chose to do. I can’t really describe them without spoiling the story, but I’ll just say some things felt pointless and I couldn’t see how they added to the story. I’ll also say this is a novel with a lot of loose ends. If you’re a reader who needs all questions answered at the end of a story, you won’t like the way this ends.
I enjoyed the little stories-within-a-story that were added to the book. They all related to Camilla’s journey in some way. The entire book was filled with symbolism. Though the book was set in China, there were not a lot of unrecognizable words and I really appreciated that. The book was a very easy read.
I found the ending a bit sudden and as I said, there were too many unanswered questions for me to rate this book higher. Perhaps other readers who don’t mind ambiguous endings would enjoy it more. I was, however, entertained by Camilla’s journey and she’s a character I won’t forget soon.
About the Author
Mingmei Yip believes that one should, besides being entertained, also get something out of reading a novel. Her new novel is Skeleton Women is about survival, letting go, and finding love and compassion.
Her debut novel Peach Blossom Pavilion is the story about the last Chinese Geisha and also that of courage and the determination to succeed and attain happiness. Her second novel Petals from the Sky, a poignant Buddhist love story, is about wisdom, compassion, when to persist and when to let go. Her third novel Song of the Silk Road is an adventure love story between an older woman and a younger man with a three million award on China’s famous, dangerous route.