The California Gold Rush summons up images of dusty miners, rough saloons and even rougher outlaws--but seldom the independent women who also sought their fortunes west of the Rockies. Having documented the struggles of female 49ers in the nonfiction They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush, historian Levy here fluently fictionalizes the exploits of the true-life Ah Toy, one of the first Chinese women to arrive in San Francisco, and the first to take San Francisco's powerful Chinese gangs to court. After her master dies while they are crossing the Pacific, the slave girl Ah Toy sets up shop as a ""mist-and-flower lady""--a highly regarded prostitute--catering to white men. She soon earns power, respect and enough wealth to stand up to the tongs who try to take advantage of her. With lucid prose and a smooth narrative full of historical detail, Levy skillfully evokes the dangers of a San Francisco plagued by fires, murders and lynchings. Her characters come fully to life, especially Ah Toy, whose struggle for personal freedom is delicately balanced against a desire to adhere to Chinese traditions. (Feb.) FYI: This is the fourth novel in Forge's Women of the West series, and its publication will coincide with the 150th anniversary of the discovery of gold in California. Levy is a featured expert in a PBS documentary on the Gold Rush that is set to air in January.