The Empress of Salt and Fortune

, #1

eBook, 112 pages

English language

Published March 23, 2020 by Tom Doherty Associates.

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4 stars (10 reviews)

With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama, Nghi Vo's The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.

A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully.

Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.

At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in …

2 editions

reviewed The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (The Singing Hills Cycle, #1)

The Empress of Salt and Fortune

4 stars

I gave this a reread before reading the other two books in this series. (In retrospect, I think these books truly are a "could read in any order" series and so this was unnecessary.) I enjoyed this a lot even on the second read. I am a sucker for anything with a frame story as well as stories about telling stories. The narration being little vignettes based on objects found around the house really worked for me.

It was fun to have reread this so close to Neon Yang's Tensorate series, and especially The Ascent to Godhood. There's a lot of parallel vibes between the two in their story framing, the rough plot arc of an overthrown ruler, but especially the way the emotional and personal is foregrounded while so much action happens off page. What I think works especially well in this book is how all of these details …

Engaging idea that didn't quite work for me

3 stars

I love the basic premise of this book: telling a story about a tough, resourceful woman through the framing of an archivist going through objects in her house and getting context for them as flashbacks. It's beautifully written, and the Empress is a compelling character. But somehow the world didn't manage to draw me in. I'm honestly not sure if that's any fault of the book, or just that I'm a bit saturated with new fictional worlds having read a lot of fantasy this year.

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5 stars