The Empress of Salt and Fortune is the first novella in the Singing Hills Cycle by Nghi Vo.
Finished on: 30.12.2021
[Here’s my review of the second novella.]
Cleric Chih arrives at Thriving Fortune, long since abandoned after the death of the Empress. They have been sent there to record everything of note for the Singing Hills Monastery. Apart from the things that remain in Thriving Fortune, there is also Rabbit. She used to be a servant of the Empress In-yo. Rabbit agrees to tell Chih the Empress’ story – a story that is also Rabbit’s story in the end.
I read the second novella in the Cycle first (because I missed that it was the second novella), so I was more prepared for how utterly fantastic Vo’s writing and storytelling is. The Empress of Salt and Fortune proves that again, and expecting it doesn’t make it any less wonderful.
Much like When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, The Empress of Salt and Fortune is quite unlike anything I read before. Both novellas feel like part of the same world, but they are also very distinct from each other. (I would recommend, though, that you read them in the right order, unlike me, because there are tad more explanations in Empress.)
In any case, the way Vo unfolds the story in Empress is really something to behold. She manages to make the story highly emotional, but also quite cerebral. She subverts expectations at every turn, she’s highly aware and critical of class in particular, and power structures in general, and while she does all that, she also wrenches your heart a few times.
It really is a magical series, and I hope Vo will write much more in it (a new one is expected this year). Meanwhile, there are two more novels she wrote outside of the series, and I can’t wait to dive into those as well.
Summarizing: simply fantastic.