A 2021 Finalist for the Hugo Award | the Locus Award | the Ignyte Award
Winner of the 2020 Crawford Award!
"Dangerous, subtle, unexpected and familiar, angry and ferocious and hopeful... The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a remarkable accomplishment of storytelling."—NPR
A 2020 ALA Booklist Top Ten SF/F Debut | A Book Riot Must-Read Fantasy of 2020 | A Paste Most Anticipated Novel of 2020 | A Library Journal Debut of the Month | A Buzzfeed Must-Read Fantasy Novel of Spring 2020 | A Goodreads Choice Award Finalist | A Washington Post Best SFF of the Year So Far Pick
Named Book Riot's Best Book Cover of 2020
Named a Best of 2020 Pick for NPR | Library Journal | NYPL | Chicago Public Library | The Austen Chronicle | Autostraddle
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.
The Singing Hills Cycle
The Empress of Salt and Fortune
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain
Into the Riverlands
The novellas of The Singing Hills Cycle are linked by the cleric Chih, but may be read in any order, with each story serving as an entrypoint.
Praise for The Empress of Salt and Fortune
“An elegant gut-punch, a puzzle box that unwinds itself in its own way and in its own time. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Gorgeous. Cruel. Perfect. I didn't know I needed to read this until I did.”—Seanan McGuire
"A tale of rebellion and fealty that feels both classic and fresh, The Empress of Salt and Fortune is elegantly told, strongly felt, and brimming with rich detail. An epic in miniature, beautifully realised."—Zen Cho
"Nghi Vo's gracefully told debut . . . resides in the intimate margins of its (beautifully imagined) world's history, portraying how the marginalized may yet shape those narratives and harness the power of stories."—Indrapramit Das
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
Vo's adventurous debut combines myth and fable with political intrigue to build a stunning feminist fantasy set in a land inspired by imperial China. Chih, a traveling cleric, and their bird, Almost Brilliant, meet Rabbit, an elderly woman who spent her life as a handmaiden, and collect her many stories. Rabbit was sold to the court when she was five years old because her parents could not pay their full taxes. Once installed there, Rabbit quickly rose in the ranks of servants. The exiled Empress In-Yo from the North arrived at court later intending to take part in a political marriage and produce an heir. Both outsiders, In-Yo and Rabbit form a fast bond that runs deep, defying simple categorization. As Rabbit, who has remained loyal to the empress, reveals a tale of conspiracies and rebellion, Chih must decide what they will do with these spilled imperial secrets. The subtlety and nuance of Vo's evocative storytelling lend the novella an epic, timeless feel. Equal parts love and rage, this masterfully told story is sure to impress.
A Great Beginning to the Singing Hills Cycle
“The Empress of Salt and Fortune” is the first novella in the Singing Hills Cycle by Nghi Vo. It is a fantasy, set in a Asian-inspired alternative world. The novella tells the story of the ascent of the titular Empress to the throne of the Empire of Anh.
This story is told to Chih, a Cleric of the Singing Hills Temple by an elderly woman known as Rabbit, who was once the handmaiden of the Empress when she was in exile by a magical lake in a forest. Clerics of the Singing Hills apparently seek to acquire historical knowledge from their world with the assistance of intelligent magical familiars that have the appearance of Hoopoe Birds.
The story is told beautifully, using objects being cataloged at this remote palace, and the stories that they inspire. These individual tales slowly weave together to form the tapestry that is the main story.
The world in which Anh is set resembles a medieval Asia of our world, but has a few supernatural and alternate historical differences. In addition to intelligent Hoopoes capable of incredible feats of memory and human speech, there are the Mammoths. These elephantine animals are used by the northern people as mounts and in war.
However, this is mostly a tale that could have come from the historical literature of our world. It focuses on the characters, and their seemingly simple actions that eventually result in major outcomes. It’s a great story, and I look forward to future tales in the Singing Hills Cycle.
Slow steady build of tension
There are times in your life when you really need a deeply engrossing story that will take you away from the here and now for the space of a couple hours. One of those times is when you’re sitting in an emergency room waiting for them to confirm your pulmonary embolism. One of those stories in Nghi Vo’s novella The Empress of Salt and Fortune. I don’t recommend the former, but I do recommend the later.
A historic fantasy in a China-inspired setting, the story uses a quiet, measured narrative style to build tension with the feel of a thriller. Quite a feat when the action is all in the past and one of the principle characters has just died. The framing story involves the non-binary monk Chih, whose vocation is to collect histories, and whose immediate task is to unravel certain mysteries known to the empress’s handmaiden, Rabbit. The empress is a political hostage, imprisoned, powerless…or is she? There are several delightful twists to the plot, and half the fun is trying to guess what they’ll be from the scraps and clues, in parallel with Chih’s quest.
The narrative style is likely to be different from what you expect from a fantasy novel, but I recommend embracing it and letting it lead you, bit by bit, into the story. There’s a second novella featuring another of Chih’s story-collecting adventures and I’m looking forward to equal enjoyment. Oh, and both books have sapphic elements, so there's that as well.