A fierce love.
Political intrigue & well plotted revenge.
The anger of women.
THE EMPRESS OF SALT & FORTUNE (SINGING HILLS BK 1) by Nghi Vo is an elegantly written fairytale with revolving around the themes of revenge, loyalty, friendship, and identity. The book's set in a lush vision of a Chinese imperialist dynasty and totally sweeps you into the tale of a nonbinary cleric, Chih their neixin-bird partner Almost Brilliant and their encounter with Rabbit, the elderly servant of the recently passed empress, In-Yo.
This book is such an escape! Through Chih, a cleric who's role is to record all history as it is as a neutral observer, we're introduced to the world at large. There's a lot Vo wraps into this period story set in the wilderness of nature -- we learn ghosts (both benign and not), nature spirits, dragons, fortune-tellers, and shapeshifting humans are accepted parts of this world's reality and it's GLORIOUS. High fantasy seeps through the pages of this book and I love how Vo clearly describes the world, but doesn't over-explain. For me, I love this because I love being able to let my imagination take it and run. I also enjoy being able to research things I'm unfamiliar with too -- there's SO much to Chinese lore and history and for a story like this, I definitely was inspired to learn more certain things mentioned in the book.
At it's bones, THE EMPRESS OF SALT & FORTUNE, is grounded by the heart of it's story revolving around In-Yo's experience as an exiled empress designing her revenge against her oppressors on behalf of her people. There's political intrigue as we're introduced to the world of emperors, courts, accessory wives, and the reality of life in exile. There's the wonderfully told story of Rabbit and In-Yo's friendship & loyalty to each other. And there's the second layer of story Vo weaves in about Rabbit and Chih's relationship as cleric and storyteller. Rabbit sharing the untold parts of In-Yo's story has consequences to Chih's current world and they are left with the weight of that reality.
A LOT is packed into this novella and when combined with the second half of the SINGING HILLS duology, WHEN THE TIGER COMES DOWN THE MOUNTAIN, they form the perfect complementary epic in miniature.