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.
Thank you to Tor for an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune is what it’s like to read fables but highlighted and improved upon with magic. Rocks transform into peonies, mammoths roam the world, kissing, and nonbinary students listening to queer elders. Vo writes a poetic and beautifully drawn epic novella inspired by Chinese culture, history, and storytelling.
The tale starts with Chih, a cleric learning of the great Empress of Salt and Fortune. Every part of this story is something Rabbit wants Chih to know. The first moments she met the Empress from the north, wife of the Emperor of Pine and Steel. The seclusion and politics finding the Empress wherever she went. Her very existence a threat to men. All those juicy tales.
Vo gives us flavor when she says queer empresses get to exist in fantasy without having to center homophobia.
The prose is one of my favorite things about Vo’s writing. Her writing is like watching flowers on your desk open, slowly changing from newness to lovely death; all beautiful. Written with Chinese inspirations and epic fantastic tales, she tells us something through the complex characters you meet along the way.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune is kisses, tears, and all the magical book gifts you could desire in a swanky little novella. Go to the bookstore and order some Empress of Salt and Fortune with a cherry for clear skin. This is the type of feminism I want to eat. Always consume your feminism in book form.