"As she rises from one of Emperor Hsien Feng's thousands of concubines to her place at his side, Cixi, the title's Empress Orchid, provides rare glimpses of life in the Forbidden City and the Imperial Palace. Alexandra O'Karma's performance brings Orchid's determination to survive in a male-dominated world into sharp focus. O'Karma's cultured voice conveys both seductiveness and cleverness as Orchid schools herself, first in sexual wiles, and, later, in the fine art of courtly and governmental intrigue. Was the last empress of China (1856-1908) capable of unprecedented cruelty and responsible for the collapse of the Ch'ing Dynasty, or were her political adversaries guilty of revisionist history? While Anchee Min's extravagant, complex fiction doesn't exactly answer the question, her research is exceptional and her approach undeniably fascinating. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award (c) AudioFile 2004, Portland, Maine"