The Empress of Salt and Fortune: Singing Hills Cycle, Book 1 Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama, Nghi Vo's 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 in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. 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 for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor's lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.
At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She's a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.
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|Listening Length||2 hours and 25 minutes|
|Audible.ca Release Date||July 31 2020|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #66,329 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#115 in LGBTQ2S+ Science Fiction & Fantasy
#401 in LGBTQ2S+ Literature & Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
#612 in Coming of Age Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
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The story itself is sad and poignant. The image of a lonely Empress being exiled as soon as her ‘use’ was up and the friendship that grew between In-yo and Rabbit was beautiful. The novella is only a little over 100 pages, but the characters are beautifully fleshed out and so well developed that I felt more emotionally connected to them than characters in some novels I’ve read. The narrative is tight and concise without a single word wasted to bring the reader along on Chih’s discoveries, and left me with a sense of genuine loss that the story was over. I can’t wait for the second story in this series so I can enjoy more storytelling from Chih’s unique perspective. Nghi Vo is a writer that I’ll be insta-buying from now on.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune is one of those books which initially looked like it would hit a large number of my buttons (once I'd overlooked the novella issue): non-European setting, outsider perspective and a talking bird to cap it all off. Mostly, it did what I wanted, using the main character of Rabbit to talk about what happened without ever really giving everything away as she did so and Chih as the character who gets to pick away at what doesn't quite fit. Any time there's a hoopoe involved too, I'm right there (they're one of my favourite birds), so the decision to make Almost Brilliant a bird of that species was going to be a winner all the way.
We never actually meet the eponymous Empress, only get to know her through the point of view of others: the servant who loves her, the minister who despises her for her foreignness, the items she has left behind which Chih is cataloguing. All we know initially is that she was sent from elsewhere to form an alliance, then exiled to this particular place when she had done her duty and produced a son and heir. What the author does cleverly at this stage is structure the storyline so that the outcome is inevitable but not obvious, with little details thrown in along the way to distract.
All in all, I enjoyed reading The Empress of Salt and Fortune and wished it had been longer, which is so often my lament where novellas are concerned. The other thing which didn't completely work for me was Chih's flat acceptance of everything they're told, which seemed at odds with their employment as an archivist. However, I hope the author is turning her hand to longer works and look forward to checking them out if she does. Apparently this is the first of a series, so we'll see...
The story is told to a Clerek, and their bird, by an elderly woman known only as rabbit.
Such a sad, sweet story, that had me in tears by the end. Yet still managing to remain somewhat hopeful, it is everything I love in a story.