Book Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

Goodreads: The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle #1)
Publisher: Tordotcom
Published: 24 March 2020
Genre: Adult SFF

Panda Rating:

(4.5 pandas)

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.

TL;DR: I started reading this thinking that it would go way over my head. I wasn’t connecting, I wasn’t understanding each time Rabbit would end a story and ask “Do you understand?” and I was kinda tempted to DNF. And then something clicked and as I continued reading and more things made sense, I listened to my urge to go back to the beginning to re-read what I didn’t understand at first… And then I got it and mind-blown. 🤯

This is the kind of story that you can annotate the heck out of and gain so much from with each re-read and although I don’t do it often, I feel a strong urge to do it with this book. This novella is a little over 100 pages and it’s the kind of story that has made me feel grateful that I have learned to appreciate the power and beauty of short stories.

Nghi Vo’s writing was captivating. It’s lyrical, poetic, and flowed effortlessly off the page to hold me in rapture. The thing about this story is that it’s deceptively easy to read because you can read it at a surface level and simply bask in the joys of beautiful writing and good storytelling as we follow Cleric Chih and Almost Brilliant as they record a part of history that until recently has been cloaked in shadow. For how short this is, Vo still paints a vivid landscape of deadly politics and clashing cultures but also magic, fortune tellers, ghosts and mythology.

I loved these characters so much. Starting with Cleric Chih and Almost Brilliant with their desire to fulfil their roles by collecting the most accurate versions of history for the people to understand. There’s Rabbit, who is so much more than simply a hand-maiden to the Empress and of course, the Empress herself who is so quietly fierce and wildly underestimated that when the full force of her power shines through at the end, there is no other word for it but breathtaking. The empress might not have been a ‘present’ character by the time Chih and Almost Brilliant come to Thriving Fortune but the way Rabbit shares their story brings her character so vividly to life. This was brilliantly feminist, subversive, and intoxicating as we learn the way these women in exile rise against the patriarchy and an oppressive empire that has seen fit to so easily discard women when they’re no longer of use or of interest—as if they were just mere trinkets created for man’s pleasure and amusement. Threads of silent anger are woven throughout the story until it’s not silent anymore and then it’s just spine-tingling chills. I read the last few pages of this story with goosebumps running full down my body and I was sadly reluctant to accept that the story ended.

I don’t want to give more about this story away so I’m going to leave my review like this but long story short: I’m so glad that I gave this story a chance because it completely wowed me and it’s a story that I have no doubt will continue to grow on me the more I think about it. I’m looking forward to coming back to this world and continuing the journey with Cleric Chic and Almost Brilliant in the next book of the Singing Hills Cycle, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain.

Have you read The Empress of Salt and Fortune or is it on your TBR?

16 thoughts on “Book Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

  1. I’ve seen this one around, but had no idea what it was about. It sounds really, really good. I’ll have to see if my library has a copy, because I’m definitely interested in it now. Thanks for reviewing it, Dini!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think even by reading the synopsis it’s a bit difficult to accurately describe what it’s about but it’s really fantastic storytelling. I hope your library has a copy so you can give it a try and I hope you enjoy it as well if you do give it a try! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally feel you on how starting out it was a lot of feeling lost. I stuck it out because even in my confusion I felt like it would pay off, and YEAAAAAH IT DID! So glad you got to this one and were able to love it ^.^

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, thanks, Kaya! I was kinda shocked by how quickly this review flowed out for me because I usually struggle to write ones for books I loved/really enjoyed, especially when it’s so different to what I normally read! 😂

      Liked by 1 person

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