This spin on the welldocumented story of Sai Jinhua, courtesan at the time of Empress Dowager Cixi, circa 1881, is a delightful reinvention of a woman whose life was steeped in mystery. The author’s embellishments only add to those Jinhua gave herself, as she made a journey from China to Europe as concubine to Hong Jun, Chinese envoy. The author begins by whisking us to seven-year old Jinhua’s house, on the day her father has been beheaded. She’s sold for six silver coins, as her feet are unbound. At her new home, her feet are broken and bound, making the child a more attractive commodity. Clever, strong and kind, Jinhua learns a virgin courtesan’s role: how to moan and exhale. The second half of the book transports us to Vienna, where “women bind waists instead of feet”. Alexandra Curry fills our hearts with Jinhua’s hope for a new life, as “for the first time… she feels happy and hardly afraid at all”.