**I received an eARC from the publisher (thank you, Tor.com!). These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**
Book: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Release Date: March 24, 2020
My Rating: 4.25 stars
Rep: ownvoices Vietnamese-inspired world and characters, nonbinary protagonist, wlw main character
Summary: 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 a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.
Angry mothers raise daughters fierce enough to fight wolves.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting going into this story other than I needed to read it. And I was not disappointed! The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a gorgeous story within a story about a woman’s potent rage and simmering patience.
We follow Chih, a nonbinary cleric who is making their way to the capital for the new empress’s coronation. They come across Rabbit, an elderly women who used to be the previous empress’s servant, and over the course of this book, she tells Empress In-yo’s true story to Chih.
Do you understand?
And so, we get to know In-yo and everything she’s lived through. she’s been a pawn her entire life, sent into a foreign court and sent into exile as soon as she gives birth to an heir. However, she bides her time and overcomes the men who have kept her weak.
It’s an unfurling of a story with so many layers. In-yo’s life is one very much up to interpretation because if there’s anything to be learned from this story, it’s that perspective is everything. Rabbit does not outright describe In-yo to Chih; instead, she tells her anecdotes that, put together, create a more accurate portrayal of her. In-yo is lazy and uncouth to some, but Rabbit knows that she only appears that way because she has no respect for them.
In-yo had her secrets, sealed away inside her like a box with another box inside it and another inside that.
This book had absolutely beautiful writing; I couldn’t stop highlighting lines! It’s succinct but packs a punch, which gives this book even more weight to its underlying tone of rage.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune was a gorgeous frame story, unveiling a complex life laid bare. It’s a stunning fantasy with beautiful writing. I can’t recommend it enough!
About the Author: Nghi Vo lives on the shores of Lake Michigan. Her short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine, PodCastle, and Lightspeed, and her short story “Neither Witch nor Fairy” made the 2014 Tiptree Award Honor List. Nghi mostly writes about food, death, and family, but sometimes detours into blood, love, and rhetoric. She believes in the ritual of lipstick, the power of stories, and the right to change your mind.