An interesting story, with a clever structure, weaving parallels between the legend of the Peony Pavilion with the "real" story of a girl called Peony, though that does make the first third very predictable.
I found the faux naive voice of Peony a little irritating at times; it is too didactic in the way it fills readers in on the historical detail of customs and beliefs, being more like a factual book than a novel. Whilst I found all that interesting, I think it could have been presented more subtly (or else with footnotes). Still, it was interesting to consider that footbinding could actually be an act or rebellion and even freedom for poorer girls (as in Snow Flower too).
For much of the book I was concerned that the message was that reading is a dangerous activity for women, though that is finally overturned – sort of.
There were incongruous bits that sounded too modern and that a good editor should have picked up on as they were needlessly distracting: some of the descriptions of the empowering of women; lovesickness often sounded too much like a modern analysis of anorexia - explicitly when Ze says "I stopped eating, and for once I had total control over my destiny", and the ghastly line stolen from a budget sci fi movie "We asked the netherworld bureaucrats and received one time return-to-earth permits".
I also found the "clouds and rain" threesome/intimacy by proxy, a rather disquieting concept. Although I realise it was meant to be a beautiful coming together, it rather tainted the rest of the story for me.
So overall, interesting, but for me, a frustrating and disappointing read, albeit quite educational. It only gets as many as 3 stars because I like reading things that evoke China.