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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
This lyrical fantasy debut isn’t just imaginative. It’s also a bold feminist statement. In a mystical world inspired in part by the Chinese empire, the empress In-Yo has provided the royal family with an heir—so with her sole purpose fulfilled in their eyes, she’s been all but forgotten. However, she refuses to be just another silenced woman, staging an impressive and determined power grab. Throughout it all, she’s supported by her handmaiden Rabbit, a peasant of the lowest social status who nonetheless understands In-Yo’s struggle better than anyone. Practically every word in Nghi Vo’s poetic novella feels meaningful. We could have zipped through In-Yo’s enthralling tale in one sitting, but we couldn’t help wanting to stop and savor the story’s strong themes about feminism and class. Narrator Cindy Kay navigates Vo’s beautiful prose with a spellbinding voice that kept us utterly enchanted. The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a haunting and exquisite tale set in a world that may be magical but still brilliantly reflects our own.