Baltimore, 1849. Under a shadow of scandal, the young Irish Brianna Baird flees her home at Fells Point. She has little cash, and no worthwhile occupation, for what use is a seamstress’s talents in the raucous, bawdy city of New Orleans? Without family support, her only chance of survival is offered by brothel madam Nancy DeSalle and the dashing but questionable gambler, Edward Spina, who falls in love with her. In a desperate alliance with these two members of society’s underbelly, Brianna embarks on a journey through the Vieux Carré’s debauched and glittering world. With the aid of her freedwoman Emma, she learns the ways of the Voodoo Queen.
After gaining freedom for Emma’s enslaved husband and son, Brianna and Edward flee with them to San Francisco. There she becomes one of the most sought-after madams in the gold rush parlor house trade. At last will Brianna become the mistress of her own destiny? Inspired by a true story.
"A debut historical novel that chronicles the struggles, loves, and joys of an exceptional madam in 19th-century America. Grossenbacher's book, the first in a planned series, dramatizes the early life and busy career of a woman named Brianna Baird. Raised in Baltimore in the decades before the Civil War, Brianna dreams of one day growing up to own a seamstress shop and marry a sweet man of virtue. But her plans unravel after she meets young Spenser Brown, a sweet-talking violinist who leaves her pregnant and betrays the promises he made.... Alone and knowing little of the world, she travels to New Orleans and finds work at the notorious parlor house of Madam DeSalle. There, she earns her keep first as a seamstress and later as the exclusive courtesan of gambler Edward Spina.... "Grossenbacher's prose is both graceful and inventive. She absorbingly limns the various cities Brianna inhabits, from New Orleans and its 'web of Creole cottages, chaotic marketplaces, and secretive balconies, simmering outside her window, ' to the rowdy atmosphere of frontier-era San Francisco. The occasional marvelous metaphor will surprise readers, as when 'the truth hit Brianna like a badly aimed bowling pin.' "This isn't just a novel for lovers of history's more prurient corners; it's for everyone who likes well-deployed language and intense stories. A seamier side of American history, engagingly told through one woman's unexpected adventures." --Kirkus Reviews, A Recommended Review