In early-twentieth-century Shanghai, an ancient imperial dynasty collapses, a new government struggles to life and two girls are bound together in a friendship that will be tested by duty, honour and love.
Abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate outside Shanghai, seven-year-old Jialing learns she is zazhong - Eurasian - and thus doomed to face a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. The Yang family, new owners of the estate, reluctantly take her in as a servant. As Jialing grows up, her only allies are Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the courtyard for more than three hundred years. But when a young English girl appears and befriends the lonely orphan - and then mysteriously vanishes - Jialing’s life takes an unexpected turn.
As Jialang grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, she must find a way to survive political intrigue, jealousy, forbidden love and even murder. Through every turn she is guided, both by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past toward a very different fate.