Nonbinary Chih and her trusty companion, a sentient hoopoe named Almost Brilliant, have arrived on the shores of Lake Scarlet to learn more about the formerly restricted location on their way to the coronation of the new Empress. When they arrive at the lake, at the beginning of Nghi Vo’s novella, The Empress of Salt and Fortune, they meet an old woman who offers them a story. Given that Chih’s entire job is to collect stories and histories, they cannot resist the offer—even if there is an outside chance that the old woman is a ghost with an ulterior motive.
The old woman, who calls herself Rabbit and who Chih calls grandmother, turns out to have an extraordinary tale for Chih. Lake Scarlet used to be the site of a palace, Thriving Fortune, where the previous Empress was briefly exiled. Rabbit was the servant of the old Empress. The two first met when the Empress first came to the capital of Anh, to marry the emperor and produce an heir. The custom of the country was that, once that heir was born, the empress would be sterilized and exiled so that she could never give birth to a rival. As we learn by sitting in with Chih and Almost Brilliant, this was a fatal mistake for the old powers that be.
It’s funny that I just listened to an episode of Noble Blood about Wu Zetian; there are some definite parallels between Wu Zetian‘s story and the story of the Empress of Salt and Fortune. As a bonus though, this novel has ghosts, magic, codes in fortunes, and mammoths on top of the political intrigue. The Empress of Salt and Fortune is an entertaining fantasy novel, set in a fresh, vibrant world that I wish I could learn more about. It’s the kind of book that can be inhaled in an afternoon (or a morning, in my case). My only complaint about this book is that I wish it was longer! I want more of the world of Anh.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.