The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tiny book that packs a big punch. Chih the cleric (they/them) and Almost Brilliant (a hoopoe bird) travel the country carefully collecting and cataloging stories and memories. Here, they listen to Rabbit, a former handmaiden of the royal court, recount the days and years she spent by the side of the now-dead Empress, who had been sent from her home in the north for a marriage of political alliance in the south, and then was quickly cast aside and exiled. As Chih and Almost Brilliant catalog the Empresses' personal items, Rabbit weaves a tale, layered with stories and memories, that reveals the Empress as a complex woman whose life was lived with equal parts resilience and rebellion.
Nghi Vo has written an atmospheric novella with lush and evocative settings, steeped in Asian culture and mythology, and with a strong feminist message. The reader doesn't quite understand what's going on at first, but within the first ten pages, the compelling characters and mysterious plot draw the reader in, demanding one's full and undivided attention for the remainder of the book. A true masterpiece. The second book in the series, another stand-alone, will be published in December 2020. The book is titled When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain.