A young royal from the far north, is sent south for a political marriage. 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, befriends the emperor's lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.
This book is not a happy ending book. This is a salt and fortune book: dangerous, subtle, unexpected and familiar, angry and ferocious and hopeful. Here, the truth is delicately, tenderly fished out of darkness. Ugliness is couched in exquisite poetry and the ordinary is finely-drawn; any object, however plain in purpose or silly in function, might be a relic of endurance and a witness to greatness. Nghi Vo's story of women and intrigue at the end of one empire and beginning of another reveals in flashes that what you think you see isn't all there is to see ...a remarkable accomplishment of storytelling. As a reader, I felt thrilled to work on this historical puzzle...and I felt glad to know these characters' stories ... This is a book about women's and queer voices, about their importance in spite of — and in the face of — erasure. Be prepared for subtlety and grace, but also for pleasure, for a working class perspective on momentous events, for ghosts and damp pine boughs. There is no excessive gore, but there are raw moments of pain ... It makes me want to read more by Nghi Vo. I hope The Empress of Salt and Fortune is the first of many novels.
... a gorgeous little novella that robs me of anything meaningful to say, because I want only to luxuriate in its pleasures rather than offering a critical assessment ... haunting, meaningful, exquisite, like an antique, inlaid jewelry box with dangerously sharp edges ... This little book encompasses adventure, intrigue, love, murder, beauty, and even more. It’s magical ... Along with her fine ear for musical sentences, Vo has a gift for this kind of doled-out wisdom. It goes hand in hand with her gift for storytelling, the around-the-fire type. The layers of narration in this novella give us the sense that we are getting a long-lost true tale, passed from person to person, rather than a history coldly recorded by the victors ... This novella proves that small stories have enormous resonance.
Though it’s a brief novella, I was repeatedly surprised by the number of twists packed into the narrative. They aren’t 'gotcha' horror-style twists, just moments of insight and cleverness that keep the stories from ever growing predictable, even though this is a story we all know. It’s the story of the underdog rising up, the story of justice. And it’s also the story of justice not fully done, of the inherent unfairness of empire ... The prose is subtle and lyrical, elegant but not effusive. Vo conveys depth of feeling with an absolute minimum of words and scenes: a tragic love story, a great sacrifice, a terrible duty, and plot after skilful plot. It’s a masterpiece of understatement and implication. This is the little black dress of books: it gives the impression of effortlessness while being quietly meticulous in every stitch. And it’s for everyone. I can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t like this book. The Empress of Salt and Fortune has everything, and nothing in excess.