Flavia knows she is ugly. It is the one constant in her life and, because of it, her mother resents her, her father pities her, and her younger sister Pia steals all the glory, savouring the betrothal and marriage night that Flavia herself will never have. With a purple birthmark in the shape of a bird soaring across her cheek, Flavia is irrevocably marked. And yet, when her vindictive behaviour leads her parents to wash their hands of her at last, and confine her to a convent, Flavia discovers a remarkable truth: beauty can be assumed. Assigned to the elegant Ghostanza Dolfin, serving as her ornatrix or beautician, Flavia discovers that beauty can come out of a jar and that ugliness can be hidden beneath the glowing white mask of cerussa. Suddenly, life is full of possibility.