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Read an Excerpt of DAUGHTER OF CALAMITY by Rosalie M. Lin

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Tour the dark corners and dangerous underbelly of a magical Shanghai with Jingwen, a showgirl determined to root out what or who is behind a gruesome series of thefts.

Book cover for Daughter of Calamity by Rosalie M. Lin featuring illustration of Chinese woman against a dark backdrop featuring gold leaves and white title and author text

In Rosalie M. Lin’s Daughter of Calamity, someone is stealing the faces of the city’s dancers and Jingwen must navigate Shanghai’s underground, its powerful gangsters, dark back rooms, and wealthy society on a transformative journey of survival. Glimpse Lin’s dark and moody tale of a city brooding with treacherous deals and morbid luxury items, with god-like powers wielded by mortals, in this excerpt where Jingwen meets with her grandmother after witnessing a face theft.

Daughter of Calamity by Rosalie M. Lin is available June 18 wherever books are sold.


Chapter Two

My grandma’s clinic lies in the attic of a piano bar on Blood Alley, in the bowels that lie between the groomed, sleeping towers of the International Settlement and the French Concession.

In the hellish blue alleys that run under the Bund’s distinguished consulates and banks, neon lamps illuminate the faces of courtesans and gangsters, who are smoking cigarettes in the shadows. Outside a dive bar, a group of boys in white uniforms—sailors in the American navy—nudge each other and whisper behind their hands, nodding at me. But on the other side of the street, a group of silver-handed gangsters from the Blue Dawn are keeping watch, steel sabres ready to be drawn at any second, making the sailors think twice about going after a Chinese woman.

Inside the Cabaret Volieré, merriment and abandon overflow like the foam atop a mug of beer. The Texan pianist is playing honky-tonk with his callused fingers on a peeling, out-of-tune grand piano, occasionally missing notes due to the broken keys. Knockoff absinthe, made in some British swindler’s bathtub, makes its rounds on brass trays. Everybody is drunk. The dresses are falling off the shoulders of the taxi dancers, who are lying across the laps of their patrons, their makeup smudged.

I run up the stairs behind the piano, past the couples tangled in each other’s skin on the second-floor lounge, to the closed door at the very top of the stairs.

The clinic, with its steel sink and gleaming operating table, is empty. Tendrils of warm sandalwood incense dance through the air like souls, rising from a small shrine in a corner of the room. A pile of offerings—oranges, apples, and a small pineapple—lay heaped before a nuo opera mask, a lacquered ebony face twisted into a grimace, with flaming red brows and a tiger’s whiskers.

As I approach the shrine, incense crawls after me like a summer insect, creating a halo around my head, and I bat the smoke away with my hand. “Go away,” I say, although it’s just smoke.

Near the clinic’s window, a steaming kettle of black coffee rests on a low sandalwood table beside diagrams of musculature and anatomy. The window is wide open, silk curtains fluttering in the breeze.

I arrange my high heels neatly under the windowsill and climb outside, onto the rusted fire escape. Down below, a couple of gangsters look up, cigarettes between their teeth. I smooth my dress down to conceal my underwear.

Yue Liqing is standing on the roof, leaning over the parapet, wearing a flowing blouse made of patterned silk. A strand of her curled, white hair dances in the night air.

“Waipo!” I yell from the fire escape. “What are you doing?”

She holds her hand up to silence me. “Breathing,” she says. “Jingwen, don’t you feel like the night air is haunted sometimes? It’s beautiful.”

In the distance, nightclub signs twinkle like paper lanterns floating down a stream. Automobiles glide up the avenues like a school of goldfish. The fog I had noticed earlier that evening has lifted.

“Waipo, I brought the money.”

Liqing’s eyes open slowly. “You’re also late. You were caught up dancing with some new paramour, weren’t you? That’s why you’re wearing that ridiculous thing on your head. Your mother was exactly the same in her youth.”

I reach up and realize I’m still wearing the beaded headdress. “There was an attack at the cabaret.” I comb my fingers through the beads to untangle them from my hair. “Waipo, you always know everything that happens in Shanghai after nightfall. What’s going on?”

Liqing exhales one last time, the warmth of her breath lingering in the air, and she descends the fire escape, her surgeon’s hands steady on the rails. At odds with the rest of the urban decay, she is wearing black-and-white cloth slippers, a relic of her childhood in the countryside.

In her clinic, she pours a mug of coffee. We sit across from each other at the table, both of us kneeling. When the mug is nearly full, I reach for it, but Liqing slaps my hand away.

“The first cup is always for the spirits,” she responds, setting it between us.

I sigh audibly, but she ignores my exasperation. With a deep breath, I prepare to launch into a rant about Huahua and her missing lips, but I bite my tongue before I start. Liqing’s shoulders are relaxed, her eyes closed as she inhales the coffee steam. If I say anything now, she won’t hear it. So, I gesture to the shrine instead, trying to appease her obsession with ghosts and demons. “The mask is different from the one you had a few hours ago when I came for the bones.”

Liqing fills a second mug of coffee. “Ah yes, that mask was meant to ward off the spirits of my hateful, long-dead in-laws. This one is meant to repel the pig-faced ghost.”

The vines of smoke dance toward my outstretched finger, hissing like a viper, and I draw my hand away. Liqing nudges the coffee toward me, and I take it as my cue to start.

I suck in another deep breath. “Someone cut Huahua’s lips from her face. It happened like lightning. One second everyone was dancing, including her, and then she screamed and her lips were gone. I don’t know how to describe it—she wasn’t even bleeding that much. Her face became a sort of moving shadow.”

“That is gruesome,” Liqing agrees, “but hardly the strangest thing I’ve heard about this city.”

“Even now, I wonder if I imagined it. Maybe I’m just going mad.”

My beaded headdress lies discarded on the old carpet—crown jewels under the Paramount’s sparkling chandeliers, but cheap junk on the floor of my grandmother’s clinic.

The lines around Liqing’s mouth deepen. “Shanghai is a wild animal. Her cruelty lies in her capitalistic nature. If you choose to become a cabaret girl, then you should be prepared to deal with the consequences.”


From Daughter of Calamity by Rosalie M. Lin. Copyright © 2024 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

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