Empress Wu ordered all the flowers to bloom at once. When they did, the Fairy of a Hundred Flowers and her 99 flower spirits were punished by being transformed into mortals. So begins the light-fantastic part of this 19th century Chinese satire set in 684-705. Tang Ao, searching for tao, or a mystic oneness with nature, sets out on a long sea voyage with a friend. They encounter many curious people on little islands. On the island of women, men dress and act as women, and women as men. With no momentum and no apparent rationale for the choice of its satiric islands, the book presents a rather pedestrian landscape in spite of its strange inhabitants. Tang is destined to rescue a dozen maidens (flower spirits) before he retires to a mountain. His daughter, Fairy of a Hundred Flowers, after a subsequent search voyage, ends up with the girls at her home as they all prepare for the civil service examinations, just opened to women. In a coda piece, new characters go through bizarre moral allegorical tests. Even if one ignores the many passages of ""family interconnections,"" the lists, the detachment of tone, the book is slow. Only when the author shows evidence of his feminist attitude does one see a deep trait in Chinese culture and sense the commitment behind the satire. On the whole, however, Flowers in the Mirror says little to a 20th century Western reader.