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The Empress of Salt and Fortune

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Librarian's note: This is an Alternate Cover Edition for ASIN: B07VH6Y4JD. With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama 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. Alone and sometimes r Librarian's note: This is an Alternate Cover Edition for ASIN: B07VH6Y4JD. With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama 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. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.


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Librarian's note: This is an Alternate Cover Edition for ASIN: B07VH6Y4JD. With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama 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. Alone and sometimes r Librarian's note: This is an Alternate Cover Edition for ASIN: B07VH6Y4JD. With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama 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. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.

30 review for The Empress of Salt and Fortune

  1. 5 out of 5

    chai ♡

    ✧ find this review & others on my blog ✧ Dust lay thick on the history of Lake Scarlet: a soft blanket of years, keeping all the best secrets, undisturbed. But Chih, a traveling cleric who walks through puddles of ink, following footprints that form stories in their wake to collect like cards in their heart, is here to disturb them. Chih meets Rabbit, an elderly woman who tells them of the history of this beautiful and harrowing landscape, decades dead—and the words rise from their ink-and-cot ✧ find this review & others on my blog ✧ Dust lay thick on the history of Lake Scarlet: a soft blanket of years, keeping all the best secrets, undisturbed. But Chih, a traveling cleric who walks through puddles of ink, following footprints that form stories in their wake to collect like cards in their heart, is here to disturb them. Chih meets Rabbit, an elderly woman who tells them of the history of this beautiful and harrowing landscape, decades dead—and the words rise from their ink-and-cotton cradles and swirl into the air again, reshaping the true face of history.  Rabbit doesn’t take the sting out of her memories. She doesn’t dust them up along the edges, or blur them with soft pencils. She isn’t telling a story as much as she is pinning down shards of history with well-aimed throws of a dagger before they could melt into paper like watermarks, gone as soon as the ink dries. “Do you understand?” she asks Chi, urgent and hushed, and it feels like a weight Chi can't shed or throw off,  now forever a part of them, as much as their bones and their blood. “Do you understand?” the words, too, like a rope, mooring the reader to the page. Rabbit tells the story of the exiled Empress In-Yo from the North, who Rabbit served as a loyal handmaiden. In-Yo who was brought to court for a marriage of alliance, and expected to curl into her good-wife place like a loyal hound at her master’s feet—neither loved nor despised, but an in-between creature allowed to scurry freely so long as she didn’t cause trouble. In-Yo who had been called to greater things, and who, in due course, had moved mountains, defeated the mighty, and made the world sing the song she chose for it. In-Yo who might have once carried within her parts of her that nurtured and sang and loved but which went out of her to animate what was left: the fear and rage and vengeance. The world had cycled through endless permutations of this story. They built a sustainable catalog of half-lies, altering truths to appease the living, but Rabbit’s “allegiance lies with the dead, and no matter what the clerics say, the dead care for very little.” Do you understand? “Angry mothers raise daughters fierce enough to fight wolves.” I was almost reluctant to turn the last page of this book, as though I were under a spell that would be broken the moment my finger touched the unyielding reality of my kindle’s power button. Everything was bathed and saturated with its presence, and I felt suspended then, hovering weightless as a puff of smoke, in some place where I could believe in magic and story keepers and memories that extend backward through time’s infinite doorways. At only 100 pages, the book itself is short, and yet, remarkably, Nghi Vo carries a great deal with her in the pages of The Empress of Salt and Fortune: horror, beauty, wonder, and a searing paean to the power of story. Told through flashbacks, meditations, and stories within stories, a reader has the sense here of a handful of fully realized novels, all circling each other. I had the idea that each of these characters is standing at the beginning of another fantastical story, and I wanted to follow them all. The novel is taut as piano wire, hypnotic, symphonic, and riveting from its opening lines. In Nghi Vo’s prose, voices have texture and weight like polished ivory—they rise and fall like a ballad, lulling the reader, pulling at them, stroking them—and every rippling nuance is captured with precision and acuity. The fleshy, savory storylines, the gorgeous ideas and images in conflict, as well as in concert, are well worth carrying out of the text to admire further, and the masterful sleight of hand that draws the story to a satisfying ending pretty much begs you to immediately flip to the first page and start all over. The Empress of Salt and Fortune is also a poignant, quietly pensive book, bristling with so much heart-piercing wisdom. In her novel, Nghi Vo turns her attention to the kinds of characters and conflicts you often find sidelined in such stories, pondering weighty questions that feel both urgent and timeless—and she does so to genuinely tremendous effect. It’s “the story under the story,” as Nghi Vo said in a recent talk with Tor, once shrouded and entombed now working itself free, as if slowly rising out of the ruins of a collapsed house after an earthquake, and carving a space where it can beat again. Nghi Vo takes us deeper into a world of strife, where wars are “won by silenced and nameless women”, through seasons when all hopes wilt and die and bloom anew, and deeper we go, feeling as though we were at the cusp of dreaming, yet somehow never more awake. The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a ravishingly beautiful book, a graceful, incandescent story like absolutely no other. The longer you are here, the harder it is to remember anywhere else. ☆ ko-fi ★ blog ☆ twitter ★ tumblr ☆

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lala BooksandLala

    My favourite book I read in March! 🙌Book 27 of 30 for my 30 day reading challenge. Empress of Salt and Fortune was this remarkable little tale told by an elderly woman named Rabbit. We have a cleric named Chi (they/them) and their hoopoe Almost Brilliant who are listening to the story of the Empress In-Yo, who had Rabbit as a handmaiden during the time when she was married into an alliance, and then exiled. Nghi Vo delivers a deeply moving, atmospheric story of feminism, resilience, and rebellio My favourite book I read in March! 🙌Book 27 of 30 for my 30 day reading challenge. Empress of Salt and Fortune was this remarkable little tale told by an elderly woman named Rabbit. We have a cleric named Chi (they/them) and their hoopoe Almost Brilliant who are listening to the story of the Empress In-Yo, who had Rabbit as a handmaiden during the time when she was married into an alliance, and then exiled. Nghi Vo delivers a deeply moving, atmospheric story of feminism, resilience, and rebellion, steeped with culture and mythology, featuring a queer cast. Truly, what more could you want? https://youtu.be/8CA3Ep_Z1-g

  3. 5 out of 5

    Boston

    This book doesn’t make you feel things you can put into words. It makes you feel things that only you can feel and only you can comprehend. And I mean this in the best way possible.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Hamad

    I am keeping this short: I was confused most of the time, the writing was great but I finished while still trying to connect to the characters and story. I felt it was a bit choppy and disjointed. Still a fast feminist short story if you want want.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    I'm always on the lookout for writers who are getting people excited, and this one graced my radar several times before I was able to grab her on Netgalley. This one has some really cool setting descriptions (evocative and colorful), excellent use of object descriptions (telling very understated stories that branch much deeper than first implications), and some very cool points of subtlety in the telling of a much larger story. In a nutshell, we hear the story of an exiled princess in a Chinese-l I'm always on the lookout for writers who are getting people excited, and this one graced my radar several times before I was able to grab her on Netgalley. This one has some really cool setting descriptions (evocative and colorful), excellent use of object descriptions (telling very understated stories that branch much deeper than first implications), and some very cool points of subtlety in the telling of a much larger story. In a nutshell, we hear the story of an exiled princess in a Chinese-like high-fantasy dynasty and we see how she got power in a male-dominated world. But again, the story is subtle and prefers to keep a mild face throughout. I enjoyed all of this quite a bit. There are also some pretty wonderful non-binary characters, but it's not like we should judge this novella based on whether it is non-binary or LGBTQ... Right? Let me be honest. This novella is not that new. I've read some rather wonderful Guy Gavriel Kay novels recently that is just as evocative, set in similar situations, with as much High Fantasy ethos, culture, and it punched me with many subtle punches. I felt for both the females and the males. LGBTQ and straights. Kim Stanley Robinson has also pulled off something as wonderful in Years of Rice and Salt. I can probably rattle off half a dozen shorter works from the last two years alone and more than two dozen LGBTQ novellas that are coming nearly exclusively from several notable venues, all of which tout that we're FINALLY getting LGBTQ stories... and yet it almost feels like EVERY story I read that is published today is ONLY LGBTQ. Am I a hater? Hell no. But let's put it this way: if any market is glutted with a particular agenda, then one cannot accurately say that they're FINALLY getting a voice. Back around 2000, it was unusual. Now? Well, out of every recent modern book I've read, approximately 9/10 are LGBTQ. When did diversity come to mean exclusivity? And if you ask why I'm bringing this up here and now, I want to be clear that I'm not coming down on the author. I'm going to read more of her work. The finger I'm pointing at is the industry and the fans who stoke their own anger at society by removing equality from the playing field in the name of diversity and then come back to tell us all that things have been unfair for far too long. I have a very strong sense of fairness. This isn't the author's fault. I suppose I'm drowning a bit in the fact that there is LGBTQ everywhere I look. That being said, returning to this novella, I really DID enjoy it, but there is already a lot of SilkPunk out here. This one is one of the more subtle of the breed but it isn't all that original. It stands on the shoulders of many previous storytellers.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    "One drunken evening, many years on, In-yo would say that the war was won by silenced and nameless women, and it would be hard to argue with her." Cleric Chih and Almost Brilliant, a hoopoe, travel to Lake Scarlett, where the compound that Empress In-yo was exiled to sits. Chih means to catalog the contents of the compound and record its stories, but when they arrive they are greeted by an old woman named Rabbit, who invites them in. Rabbit was a servant under In-yo, who eventually came to be "One drunken evening, many years on, In-yo would say that the war was won by silenced and nameless women, and it would be hard to argue with her." Cleric Chih and Almost Brilliant, a hoopoe, travel to Lake Scarlett, where the compound that Empress In-yo was exiled to sits. Chih means to catalog the contents of the compound and record its stories, but when they arrive they are greeted by an old woman named Rabbit, who invites them in. Rabbit was a servant under In-yo, who eventually came to be known as the Empress of Salt and Fortune. As Chih takes notes, Rabbit begins to tell them about the empress, and Rabbit's own story is entwined within it. Each day, when Rabbit is finished speaking, she says, "Do you understand?" There's more to Rabbit's story than some might realize. "Angry mothers raise daughters fierce enough to fight wolves." My primary complaint comes from the fact that this is a novella, and it tries to accomplish a lot within only a few pages. The character development suffers the most, in my opinion. By the end, I felt like I was just getting to know Chih and Rabbit. I felt like I didn't know the others at all. I thought the plot might also suffer due to the short length, but I actually didn't have a problem with it. It was very confusing in the beginning, but I thought it held true to how much information we would actually be getting if a stranger decided to tell us a story. How many times has my grandpa told me a tale that took place sometime before I was born that kept me initially confused? Regardless, I thought the story flowed well. I was impressed by Vo's subtle world building. Rabbit and Chih would have a conversation, and somewhere in there we will get a tidbit of information that tells us about their world and the creatures within it. Vo has certainly mastered the art of NOT throwing in massive info dumps. Beyond world building, Vo's writing style is pleasant in general. I was immersed in the elegant writing. It's somewhat fairytale-like, but not overly dramatic.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Acqua

    Empress of Salt and Fortune is the best example of quiet fantasy I know. It's a story about a revolution, about the upheaval of an empire, the way many fantasy stories are - and yet it's unlike everything I've ever read. There isn't one fight scene, it's told decades after the events happened, and it relies so much on details and symbolism, as quiet fantasy does when it needs to talk about something not quiet at all. It follows Chih (they/them), a cleric - who pretty much functions as a historian Empress of Salt and Fortune is the best example of quiet fantasy I know. It's a story about a revolution, about the upheaval of an empire, the way many fantasy stories are - and yet it's unlike everything I've ever read. There isn't one fight scene, it's told decades after the events happened, and it relies so much on details and symbolism, as quiet fantasy does when it needs to talk about something not quiet at all. It follows Chih (they/them), a cleric - who pretty much functions as a historian and archivist - and their nixin Almost Brilliant, a magical hoopoe, as they talk with Rabbit, an old woman who was once one of the Empress' servants. This novella is split between Chih's present and Rabbit's past, and most chapters begin with an inventory. It's a story told through the history of objects as much as the history of people, as the small, mundane details have their own language, and this book understands that. This hidden language of symbols is an important thread running through the story, and it's tied to its main theme - the power that lies in what is overlooked. Like servants. Like exiled wives, as In-yo, the Empress of Salt and Fortune, was. Like the bonds women form with each other, and the way they support each others through hardships. Because of its setup, this novella felt a lot like the mirror version of another queer Asian-inspired novella about devotion and revolution told in flashbacks I've read, The Ascent to Godhood (by the way, I would recommend this to all Tensorate fans). Unlike Ascent, however, it's all but a tragic villain story. Empress of Salt and Fortune is gentle, unhurried, and very short - and more powerful than a lot of fantasy trilogies. Half of the reason this story is so memorable is the writing. It's never flowery and always sharp, almost minimalistic, so that what isn't said and is just left implied has just as much weight as what is written. The descriptions are short but incredibly vivid, as is true for everything in this book, to be honest. Even minor characters that only appear in flashbacks, like Mai and Yan Lian, are so well-drawn they jump off the page. And In-yo? She's already dead at the beginning of the story, but you could feel the power of her presence. The writing is that good. Also, I loved the worldbuilding. It's deceptively simple, clear and never messy, and the amount of casual queerness - not only the worldbuilding isn't binarist, there are queer side characters too, which include In-yo - was amazing. Also, there are talking animals and people ride mammoths. How could I not love that. Empress of Salt and Fortune is one of the best novellas I've ever read, now maybe even my favorite! I really look forward to reading what Nghi Vo will write in the future.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Clem (the villain's quest)

    3/5 stars Instagram | youtube arc received through netgalley The empress of salt and fortune is a short story about an exiled empress and her rise to power and her unconditional love for women. While the whimsical writing style of this book enhanced the experience, turning the story into a fairy tale, there was little to anything else to this book. The characters, while complex, were seen from distance, which made any kind of emotional connection impossible. The pacing of the story felt off, as th 3/5 stars Instagram | youtube arc received through netgalley The empress of salt and fortune is a short story about an exiled empress and her rise to power and her unconditional love for women. While the whimsical writing style of this book enhanced the experience, turning the story into a fairy tale, there was little to anything else to this book. The characters, while complex, were seen from distance, which made any kind of emotional connection impossible. The pacing of the story felt off, as the tale sped up on the interesting, character-revealing parts, to focus on introspective, 'this and that happened' storytelling.

  9. 4 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    A really excellent novella set in an Asian-inspired alt world, with a touch of magic but mostly politics and conspiracy and fantastic feminist rage. Haunting, extraordinary, deeply compelling in a quietly building way. Really really good.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Brinkman

    "Do you understand?" When Chih and their hoopoe, Almost Brilliant, set out to archive the halls of Lake Scarlet, they meet Rabbit. The elderly Rabbit imparts the tale of In-yo, the empress she was once a handmaiden to. An empress she befriended and got far more than she bargained for. Power did not come easy to In-yo, but now history will remember In-yo's power. A story of symbolism and sorrow. A tale of subtle, never spoken words. Trigger warnings for death of a sibling, mention of animal death, g "Do you understand?" When Chih and their hoopoe, Almost Brilliant, set out to archive the halls of Lake Scarlet, they meet Rabbit. The elderly Rabbit imparts the tale of In-yo, the empress she was once a handmaiden to. An empress she befriended and got far more than she bargained for. Power did not come easy to In-yo, but now history will remember In-yo's power. A story of symbolism and sorrow. A tale of subtle, never spoken words. Trigger warnings for death of a sibling, mention of animal death, grief, and loss of a loved one. An observant recorder, Chih (they/them) found a source far more invaluable then inanimate objects on their quest to catalog the Lake Scarlet compound. Their inquisitive, clever nature made it impossible not to feel like you were right next to the cleric, being slowly introduced to the powerful presence of In-yo. I adored discovering more with this lover of accuracy. All forms of love live long in the hearts of the loyal. Great mover and watcher, the lonely reviled and the respector. The fiercely gorgeous, quietly burning story of In-yo and Rabbit slipped through many plains all at once. Truly they tangled and twined in so many obvious yet surprising ways. While some may find the length of the book a detriment to the characters' growth, I saw its fairytale-esque nature a chance to get to know them intimately from a distance. Starkly subtle, I found myself entranced as I watched the nuances of their actions fill in their personalities. If you do not listen to what's not being said, you risk not hearing what is being said. Spellbindingly soft prose cast you in a vibrantly colorful dreamlike state as it unveils its tales. Gently brilliant with Chinese culture, history, and mythology, it watches you realize the stories within stories, their terrible weight and triumphant beauty. Short as Nighi Vo's novella may seem, her elegantly eloquent fiction is best savored slowly. It's lucky that this feminist book of resilience, power, revenge, and court intrigue captured my mind as it stole my breath. Even though the ending was a bit abrupt, The Empress of Salt and Fortune was moving and memorable. The Empress of Salt and Fortune was everything it seems yet so much more.

  11. 4 out of 5

    laurel [suspected bibliophile]

    A northern barbarian is sent south to marry the emperor. Once she bears a son, she's sent into exile with only her faithful servant at her side. But her story doesn't end there. Her story is just beginning. Angry mothers raise daughters fierce enough to fight wolves. Oh. My. Goodness. READ THIS NOVELLA. READ IT NOW. IT IS AMAZING. I cannot even begin to describe how amazing it is. It's about the anger of women in a society built to keep them powerless, and how women can get away with literal politic A northern barbarian is sent south to marry the emperor. Once she bears a son, she's sent into exile with only her faithful servant at her side. But her story doesn't end there. Her story is just beginning. Angry mothers raise daughters fierce enough to fight wolves. Oh. My. Goodness. READ THIS NOVELLA. READ IT NOW. IT IS AMAZING. I cannot even begin to describe how amazing it is. It's about the anger of women in a society built to keep them powerless, and how women can get away with literal political coups by using the very tools that men poo-poo as silly, frivolous things to rip power away. It took me a minute to get into the story, as it's set about 60 or so years after the events take place and things were a little confusing at first. Cleric Chih is on a quest to uncover what really happened during the Empress In-yo's time in exile, and stumbles into the empress's former handmaiden, Rabbit. While the main action occurs through Rabbit's tales of the past, the present is very much important. However, Rabbit recounts her fierce bond to her mistress, and how their unlikely relationship endured through the years—Rabbit wasn't seen as a threat by the men in power and therefore was allowed to remain, but she was probably the most important part of In-yo's schemes because she was the most invisible of them all. I absolutely adored In-yo, the "uncouth barbarian" who eschewed southern etiquette for practicalities. In all fairness, she did a great deal of business from her bed, still in her nightclothes. In-yo used to say that if she were going to be doing this kind of business, she might as well be comfortable. Anywho, it's short, feminist as fuck and very Asian. If you're into all of those things (in addition to fantasy), definitely check this novella out. In-yo would say that the war was won by silenced and nameless women, and it would be hard to argue with her. Do you understand? I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Romie

    this book proved that stories can be both short and impactful. we get to spend so little time with these characters, and yet we learn so much about them. we learn about their hopes and deepest desires, their fears and dreams. this little fantasy book inspired by Chinese history did more to my heart than some of the longest fantasy books I've read. this is about untold stories, the ones you don't learn about because they're not seen as important enough, the ones that hold the truth. it's about wo this book proved that stories can be both short and impactful. we get to spend so little time with these characters, and yet we learn so much about them. we learn about their hopes and deepest desires, their fears and dreams. this little fantasy book inspired by Chinese history did more to my heart than some of the longest fantasy books I've read. this is about untold stories, the ones you don't learn about because they're not seen as important enough, the ones that hold the truth. it's about women loving and supporting each other fiercely. it's about loyalty, to the people you love, alive or dead. it's a beautiful book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amy Imogene Reads

    Stellar. I went in with no expectations and was blown away with its brief perfection. Pacing: ★★★★★ Characters: ★★★★★ Story: ★★★★★ Now HERE'S what I'm talking about - this is why I read Tor.com novellas. The Empress of Salt and Fortune is, simply put, the perfect speculative/fantasy novella. This review will be extremely short and sweet, as to be honest I'd rather you read the novella than read my poor retelling of it here. Go read it! This story is really two layered stories in one. On the surface Stellar. I went in with no expectations and was blown away with its brief perfection. Pacing: ★★★★★ Characters: ★★★★★ Story: ★★★★★ Now HERE'S what I'm talking about - this is why I read Tor.com novellas. The Empress of Salt and Fortune is, simply put, the perfect speculative/fantasy novella. This review will be extremely short and sweet, as to be honest I'd rather you read the novella than read my poor retelling of it here. Go read it! This story is really two layered stories in one. On the surface layer is a traveling cleric named Chih, whose job it is to remember their nation's histories and to observe their present surroundings for the purpose of recording it for the histories. Clerics in this world are essentially history keepers, and they are aided in their quest by magical bird companions with observation and memory skills. Chih and their magical bird companion, Almost Brilliant, come across an elderly woman in a dwelling on their way to a different location. The elder's name is Rabbit, and she has a story to tell. The story within the story is Rabbit's tale, which includes the story of an empress and her secrets. As history keepers, Chih and Almost Brilliant are immediately drawn to this woman and her tale. But all is not what it seems, and some histories are buried for a reason... My thoughts: Keeping it brief: perfection. A note on the best way to read: This novella is best read, not listened to, as the narrative transitions are made more explicit with the breaking of paragraphs on the page and are not noted within the text itself at all. Blog | Instagram

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kelsea

    This was such a beautiful, sharp little fairytale. I had high hopes that the story would be as wonderful as its absolutely stunning cover, and I was not disappointed! Nghi Vo's writing is dreamlike, with soft, tender hooks that slowly grow sharper, drawing you in more and more with each chapter. I will say the plot gets a bit confusing if you try to read it too quickly. The story moves fast, covers a long period of time (relative to the length of the book), and the reader is expected to fill in t This was such a beautiful, sharp little fairytale. I had high hopes that the story would be as wonderful as its absolutely stunning cover, and I was not disappointed! Nghi Vo's writing is dreamlike, with soft, tender hooks that slowly grow sharper, drawing you in more and more with each chapter. I will say the plot gets a bit confusing if you try to read it too quickly. The story moves fast, covers a long period of time (relative to the length of the book), and the reader is expected to fill in the spaces with logical leaps. While I can see how that may have tripped some readers up, I didn't find that bothersome. As a speed reader, I tend to whiz through books. With a novella, speed reading means the book is over in the blink of an eye. I love how Nghi Vo's style forced me to slow down and savor the story. The Empress of Salt and Fortune is more than a novella -- it's a spell. Reading it was an experience to be treasured. This is a book I can see myself rereading in the future!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    It took me a few chapters to get in to this story but once i did, it swept me off my feet. The writing is atmospheric and lyrical and the story reads like a fable which only adds to its charms. I loved the characters and thought the author did a great job of exploring their relationships in such a short book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Racheal

    I often have the hardest time reviewing the books I love the most. I'm tempted to just be like, "It made me cry. That's it, that's the whole review. 5 stars." But I think maybe I need to go a little deeper for this one. So first off, I picked this up because a lot of the reviewers I trust were suddenly popping up giving it great reviews, so I went into it with an open mind but knowing I'd likely dig it. And of course I did; it was everything I hoped for and more-  achingly beautiful, masterfully I often have the hardest time reviewing the books I love the most. I'm tempted to just be like, "It made me cry. That's it, that's the whole review. 5 stars." But I think maybe I need to go a little deeper for this one. So first off, I picked this up because a lot of the reviewers I trust were suddenly popping up giving it great reviews, so I went into it with an open mind but knowing I'd likely dig it. And of course I did; it was everything I hoped for and more-  achingly beautiful, masterfully crafted, thoughtful, unique, quiet yet fierce. I think I would have liked it at any time in my life. But it hasn't come at any time in my life. It's come during the midst of this quarantine nightmare, a time when I haven't been able to finish a book to save my life. A time when my fairly routine thoughts about the impermanence of life have shifted dramatically beyond the merely philosophical and into bone-deep neuroses. Breakdown level, for sure. And in the midst of that, this book gave me a little window into a world that perfectly spoke to all those fears while also adding in so much tenderness and poignancy, and the soothing, healing perspective of time. There's one point in particular that now, more than a month after reading it, can still can bring me to tears in about a second flat- not the kind of tears that raw tragedy brings, the kind that come from the resonance you sometimes find with books that perfectly speak to your experience of life, its beauty and its pain, softened to a bittersweet suffusion that is somehow bearable and even welcome. I don't want to spoil anything because it's such a spare thing at 112 pages, so I'm just going to wrap this up by saying that this book touched me deeply, and it sits with Kai Ashante Wilson's books, with Octavia Butler, with Circe and with This is How You Lose the Time War, and all of the other books that have found their way into the deepest parts of me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Fatma

    2.5 stars The Empress of Salt and Fortune wasn't a bad story; it just wasn't a developed enough one for me. My impression upon finishing this novella—"...that's it?"—remains my lasting impression of this novella as a whole. In other words, I was underwhelmed. I want to say that I found this underdeveloped because it was so short, but that would be doing a disservice to all the short fiction I've recently read that has been excellent despite, and even because of, its length. The Empress of Salt and 2.5 stars The Empress of Salt and Fortune wasn't a bad story; it just wasn't a developed enough one for me. My impression upon finishing this novella—"...that's it?"—remains my lasting impression of this novella as a whole. In other words, I was underwhelmed. I want to say that I found this underdeveloped because it was so short, but that would be doing a disservice to all the short fiction I've recently read that has been excellent despite, and even because of, its length. The Empress of Salt and Fortune had all the bones of a compelling story: a world based on Asian history and mythology, a story-within-a-story narrative, a focus on the inner workings of an empire from a female perspective. Sadly, though, these facets just didn't come together for me; the compelling parts didn't cohere into a particularly compelling whole, here. The characters, especially, felt insubstantial, lacking definition. What little character development they had was confined to their roles, and to the attendant set of qualities you would expect them to have based on those roles (handmaiden = self-effacing, unassuming; empress = bold, self-assured). It was characterization that felt more uninspired than anything else, producing characters that were less fleshed out and complex and more archetypal and one-note. The plot, as well, only made my issues with the one-note characterization more glaring. It was a fairly traditional, linear plot, moving in exactly the direction you would expect it to move in. That is to say, it's a plot that ends very conservatively, so much so that I was a bit baffled when I got to the ending because I didn't think that the author would go in such an unexpected, and frankly underwhelming, direction. Having said all of that, I don't expect every story I go into to be ground-breaking or insanely innovative; I love me some good ol' classic tropes (hate-to-love romances, found family, etc. etc.) from time to time. The issue here is that I didn't think the tropes in this particular story were as well-executed as I wanted them to be; for me, The Empress of Salt and Fortune was just one of those stories that was more compelling in theory than in actuality. (Thanks so much to Tor.com for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brenda Waworga

    This book felt like a fairytale book.. while the story felt whimsical.. a tale about empress and kingdom and friendship, i felt no connection with the whole characters and story I love it's an Asian inspired story and got a storng feminist story but i feel everything is LESS... less connection, less character development In the end i feel confused and meh 😑😣 I hope the story will be longer tho to create more connection between us the reader and the characters inside this book If you are looking an This book felt like a fairytale book.. while the story felt whimsical.. a tale about empress and kingdom and friendship, i felt no connection with the whole characters and story I love it's an Asian inspired story and got a storng feminist story but i feel everything is LESS... less connection, less character development In the end i feel confused and meh 😑😣 I hope the story will be longer tho to create more connection between us the reader and the characters inside this book If you are looking an Asian inspired and feminist ahort story, this probably can work for you

  19. 4 out of 5

    charlotte, (½ of readsrainbow)

    I know what ambition feels like. This feels different. Like a weight around my shoulders, or a stone carried over my heart. On my blog. Rep: nonbinary mc, wlw characters, Southeast Asian (Vietnamese?) inspired characters and setting Galley provided by publisher Do you ever finish a novella and simultaneously you’re satisfied because it’s managed to tell a complete story but also you want to be living in that world for so much longer? Well, this is one of those. The Empress of Salt and Fortune I know what ambition feels like. This feels different. Like a weight around my shoulders, or a stone carried over my heart. On my blog. Rep: nonbinary mc, wlw characters, Southeast Asian (Vietnamese?) inspired characters and setting Galley provided by publisher Do you ever finish a novella and simultaneously you’re satisfied because it’s managed to tell a complete story but also you want to be living in that world for so much longer? Well, this is one of those. The Empress of Salt and Fortune takes place years after a coup. A chronicler arrives at the place where the empress was exiled to and meets her old handmaiden, and from there we find out the events that took place leading up to the start of the coup. Frankly, the best thing about this novella is the worldbuilding and the writing. You know when a book makes you want to live in a particular world forever and not stop reading? Well, yeah. I so desperately wanted this book to be longer than the 110 pages that it was. It felt like the story the handmaiden told could be a full length novel in itself, and we only got snapshots of everything that was going on. Then, the characters! It feels cliched to say that it seemed as though the characters came to life off the page, but they were so well-developed in such a short (or so) amount of time, and they really did almost come to life. I think it would be safe to say that this novella has left me speechless, for lack of another word. I’m struggling to put down just how much I loved it (which in itself should be a reason for you to read it). So really, all I can say is, preorder this one. You won’t regret it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    J.A. Ironside

    ARC provided via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review This was utterly spellbinding. A rich, surprisingly intricate tale that seemed woven of thousands of strands of silk as much as written. Aside from the fact that the style is exquisite, this is an amazingly powerful tale about female friendship, love, loss and the power of women's voices when women band together to remove the restraints of silence placed upon them. There are hints of fantasy here too and the story is set in a historical ARC provided via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review This was utterly spellbinding. A rich, surprisingly intricate tale that seemed woven of thousands of strands of silk as much as written. Aside from the fact that the style is exquisite, this is an amazingly powerful tale about female friendship, love, loss and the power of women's voices when women band together to remove the restraints of silence placed upon them. There are hints of fantasy here too and the story is set in a historical China inspired landscape. A young cleric and her hoopoe - a sentient, taking bird with edetic memory - are travelling to the capital to see the new Empress form her first dragon court. On the way they chance upon an old woman named Rabbit who turns out to have known the previous Empress very well indeed. As the cleric records Rabbit's story, the reader is treated to a richly detailed story of how the previous empress came to the throne; how women sometimes have to hide in plain site and bide their time, but in forming strong friendships and valuing each other regardless of background, they can become a force to be reckoned with no matter how silenced they are or how marginalised. This is simply stunning. A beautiful story that was poignant and stirring, never shying from cruelties but somehow finding a way to show the triumph of human and especially women's will and fortitude. Highly recommend this to anyone who wants a female led fantasy that is sutle and kind in the face of great opposition.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Shealea

    “Angry mothers raise daughters fierce enough to fight wolves.” Absolutely blown away. Full review to follow. * I received a digital ARC of this book (via NetGalley) from its publisher in exchange for an honest review.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Stella❤️ 孔凡星

    This novella was really interesting, different... and very difficult for me to rate. The atmosphere was really what stood out to me, but the way this story was told just wasn’t my personal preference.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sana

    '...at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.' 'It's also a narrative centered on two fascinating women, the ways in which women are allowed to be angry, and the question of who is ultimately allowed to write the history that lives on.' SO HERE FOR IT and also that the author and editor are both AsAm, that's the kind of rep to root for Source '...at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.' 'It's also a narrative centered on two fascinating women, the ways in which women are allowed to be angry, and the question of who is ultimately allowed to write the history that lives on.' SO HERE FOR IT and also that the author and editor are both AsAm, that's the kind of rep to root for Source

  24. 4 out of 5

    jenny✨

    this novella captures so much with seeming simplicity; i think that's the beauty of it. i'm left suffused with wonder, and the feeling that i've just witnessed—like chih—a piece of a nation's history, and more importantly, the love and loyalty of one simple woman who did not turn out to be so simple after all.

  25. 4 out of 5

    ReadBecca

    Accuracy above all things. You will never remember the great if you do not remember the small. A new empress has just been raised, the Lake Scarlet area where the previous empress lived in exile has been declassified. Cleric Chih and their neixin* companion Almost Brilliant, who takes the form of a talking Hoopoe bird, detour to the area to research and document its history. Chih finds an old woman nicknamed Rabbit who allows them to stay, who recounts stories of being handmaiden to the Empress. I Accuracy above all things. You will never remember the great if you do not remember the small. A new empress has just been raised, the Lake Scarlet area where the previous empress lived in exile has been declassified. Cleric Chih and their neixin* companion Almost Brilliant, who takes the form of a talking Hoopoe bird, detour to the area to research and document its history. Chih finds an old woman nicknamed Rabbit who allows them to stay, who recounts stories of being handmaiden to the Empress. I feel like this is yet another story that I just don't know what the target reader is, other than specifically me, but I sure hope other people enjoy it so we can continue to get these stories. The format is very different from things I've read before, with each chapter fragmented starting with a descriptive list of items, a scene of Rabbit introducing the items, the story of how the items pertain to Rabbit's history with the Empress, and finally Chih, Almost Brilliant, and Rabbit reflect on the story. The writing is beautiful and communicates through its brevity, often speaking in symbolism or an absence of words alongside what it does say in words. Beyond the writing, the crafting of details is just brilliant. There is some extreme political drama, but it is so understated and always just a mention in passing giving context to what is happening, rather than building any sort of tension, with the focus remaining so close and intimate. The cast stays tiny, I adore that the cast consists of an old woman, a non-human, and it seems clerics are agender/nonbinary. Nothing really happens, but there is an immensely satisfying conclusion. I felt so cozy and calmed reading this, it reminded me very much in tone of Tea Dragon Society. *I couldn't find any real world context for the term Neixin being a part of folklore/mythology, but here it is some sort of mythic being associated with the clerics.

  26. 5 out of 5

    CW (The Quiet Pond) ✨

    For years, we've asked for more 'quiet fantasy' and The Empress of Salt and Fortune is the lush and splendid quiet fantasy we've been waiting for. - Follows Chih, a nonbinary cleric, alongside their companion Almost Brilliant, a magical hoopoe, who meets Rabbit, an elderly woman and handmaiden to Empress In-Yo, and chronicles the rise and fall of an empire. - This is an exquisite Asian-inspired feminist fantasy that explores the power of anger in women; it's a quiet tale of how an empire rose and For years, we've asked for more 'quiet fantasy' and The Empress of Salt and Fortune is the lush and splendid quiet fantasy we've been waiting for. - Follows Chih, a nonbinary cleric, alongside their companion Almost Brilliant, a magical hoopoe, who meets Rabbit, an elderly woman and handmaiden to Empress In-Yo, and chronicles the rise and fall of an empire. - This is an exquisite Asian-inspired feminist fantasy that explores the power of anger in women; it's a quiet tale of how an empire rose and fell and the orchestration of a rebellion hidden in between fortunes. - Despite its short length, this novella delivers a guttering and emotional punch. Told in chapters, each chapter a story and a story within a story. - I really enjoyed this! Whether you take this as face-value or choose to explore its deeper themes, this is a solid novella, thoroughly enjoyable for its vivid storytelling, and so satisfying. Trigger/content warning: (view spoiler)[death of a loved one, murder, war themes, mention of suicide (hide spoiler)]

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

    7/10. The pros: This was a beautiful little tale. I really like the way this read like a fairytale or a fable, whimsical and with a moral feel, but it wasn't too abstract to still be understandable. It was diverse and immersive, rich with culture and imagination. The cons: I think if this were a full sized novel it could easily be a higher rating for me, but I can never get 100% connected to a novella. That's not a flaw of the book itself, it's just a thing that can't be helped. The conclusion: I 7/10. The pros: This was a beautiful little tale. I really like the way this read like a fairytale or a fable, whimsical and with a moral feel, but it wasn't too abstract to still be understandable. It was diverse and immersive, rich with culture and imagination. The cons: I think if this were a full sized novel it could easily be a higher rating for me, but I can never get 100% connected to a novella. That's not a flaw of the book itself, it's just a thing that can't be helped. The conclusion: I enjoyed this story a lot and will definitely be interested in seeing what more this author can give!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    I'm sure this fantasy novella with an asian style setting seemed like it might be my sort of thing when I bought it. The first time I tried to pick it up, I immediately set it back down upon realizing there were talking animals. (A hoopoe bird in this case.) I don't do talking animals. I just don't. Kids stories where all the characters are animals, ok. But animals talking to humans, just, no. Ugh. About two weeks ago I picked it up again, wanting something short and light, it's supposedly 100-12 I'm sure this fantasy novella with an asian style setting seemed like it might be my sort of thing when I bought it. The first time I tried to pick it up, I immediately set it back down upon realizing there were talking animals. (A hoopoe bird in this case.) I don't do talking animals. I just don't. Kids stories where all the characters are animals, ok. But animals talking to humans, just, no. Ugh. About two weeks ago I picked it up again, wanting something short and light, it's supposedly 100-120ish pages, and it's taken me this long to get through it. The talking bird didn't end up being a problem, basically because they might as well not even be there. The whole book was basically like one bland smiley face telling another bland smiley face a story. Story feels generous though. It's more like one character gradually revealing something to another. Which probably sounds good to some people. It's like character A is reluctantly relating to character B a bit of history for which character A was present. But when I say that, it's without any significant back and forth, there's no development of trust or interesting relationship development, simply with each chapter character A is ready to reveal another bit, until it reaches the end. Now this could still theoretically be made suspenseful or interesting enough to keep one wanting to come back to the book, but the the book never really sets any sort of question, or problem that I felt needed an answer. It's got all the narrative drive of a lackluster wikipedia entry. But I'm making it sound worse than I should. I didn't hate it. I simply didn't care either. It wasn't awful, and I wouldn't even entirely rule out reading the sequel much less other work by the author. Given the state of the world at the moment, I have a hard time knowing how much of my issue with this is down to the story and how much down to my current frame of mind. YMMV

  29. 4 out of 5

    Silvia

    I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 2.5 stars I appreciate what this book did but it really wasn't for me. Usually I like to start certain books knowing almost nothing about them, and this is what I did with this novella as well. In hindsight this has proved to be a mistake on my part: I think I would have benefitted from reading some reviews, although I don't think it would have changed my enjoyment of it. M I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 2.5 stars I appreciate what this book did but it really wasn't for me. Usually I like to start certain books knowing almost nothing about them, and this is what I did with this novella as well. In hindsight this has proved to be a mistake on my part: I think I would have benefitted from reading some reviews, although I don't think it would have changed my enjoyment of it. My biggest problem: I'm not someone who can read descriptions and see a clear picture in my head, unless I want to spend a lot (and I really mean a lot) of mental capacity focused on this task alone, which means sometimes spending five minutes on a paragraph alone. Something I frankly wasn't ready to do with a 100-pages novella. Don't get me wrong, I didn't have the impression that most of this book was made of descriptions, and yet I just somehow never saw it in my head. I guess I can fairly say that the writing style, while objectively good, was simply something I didn't vibe with. The story is more about female friendship and female agency than any particular big event, and it's a story that happened decades ago and is now told by Rabbit to Chih, who uses they/them. It's a story told through objects as well as words, and I do think it was very interesting to see. I was impressed to see how minor characters from the past had a complete personality even when they were only on page for maybe one chapter at the time. I more than once thought character X was going to become very important, only for them to never appear again. How they became so vivid in the span of a few paragraphs is beyond me and I think the author really did a great job there. It's always hard to realize a book is not for you when everyone 5-stars it, and especially it being casually queer I really wanted to love it more than I did, but the truth is while I enjoyed some parts I kept feeling like there was something wrong with me for not caring about it or not seeing what everyone else is seeing. I do want to keep an eye on the author but this unfortunately fell short for me.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    It’s not often I describe a book as beautiful but, dammit, The Empress of Salt and Fortune was as gorgeous in its telling as it was lush in its setting. It’s a simple tale in so far a the plot is concerned, but layered and complex in its narrative stylings. Nghi Vo tells the story through Rabbit, an elderly woman who was once handmaiden to the Empress, as she shares her memories with Chih, a non-binary Cleric, and ALmost Brilliant, their sentient avian companion, prompted by artifacts and memento It’s not often I describe a book as beautiful but, dammit, The Empress of Salt and Fortune was as gorgeous in its telling as it was lush in its setting. It’s a simple tale in so far a the plot is concerned, but layered and complex in its narrative stylings. Nghi Vo tells the story through Rabbit, an elderly woman who was once handmaiden to the Empress, as she shares her memories with Chih, a non-binary Cleric, and ALmost Brilliant, their sentient avian companion, prompted by artifacts and mementos found with a cottage on the shores of a haunted lake. The opening pages, as Chih walks the lonely path between spirits, is one of the most fantastic scenes I’ve come across in recent fiction. The narrative structure here is one of patterns and puzzles. Each chapter opens with a cataloguing of artifacts, paired with thoughts and observations from Chih, followed by Rabbit sharing a memory prompted by those objects, and then finishing with a question regarding the deeper significance of those memories. It should be artificial and repetitive, but the novella-length keeps it from becoming tiresome. What those memories come together to tell is the story of two women far from home, trapped in some ways, and yet never prisoners. We see them both raised high, cast into exile, targeted for assassination, and quietly raised up again through the subtle plots and plans so easily overlooked by men with time-worn assumptions of purpose and agency. It is a story where how and why are just as important as what, and where each chapter holds a new revelation. The telling of The Empress of Salt and Fortune makes the novella-length perfect for this tale, but I would have like more detail and depth. There’s an entire novel buried deep within these pages, but we’re only given a surface glance, limited to those artifacts, memories, and questions. https://femledfantasy.home.blog/2020/...

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