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.
Where do I even begin with this book? It’s a fantastic read with feminist themes and an Asian inspired, rich, fantasy world. My only complaint with this was it is only a novella and wasn’t longer! I couldn’t believe what the author managed to accomplish in a span of only 112 pages, I’m pleased to see that there is a sequel but honestly this reads as a standalone just as well.
This is a fantasy novella but it’s quite unlike any other fantasy stories I’ve read. It’s toned down a bit and has a much more “quiet” feeling atmosphere. Not the high octane, adrenaline pumping fantasy one can usually find. The story is told in third person POV but it centers around a former royal handmaiden, Rabbit, relaying the tale of the Empress’s rise to power to a cleric, Chih, whose job it is to document such knowledge. I personally really enjoyed the story being told this way, secondhand through the eyes of someone who saw it all and not by the person who it happened to necessarily. I thought it was an interesting take and it kept me turning pages because I couldn’t wait for the next part of her tale to be told as it slowly revealed more information about the world and characters.
For such a short book I could not believe the complexity the world held, there was so much there: history, culture, and even politics. The region the Empress came from differs greatly from the seat of the Empire she is married off to and the politics she experiences at court are shocking. There are many little twists throughout the story as well as the Empress is exiled and starts a rebellion.
The writing is gorgeous and gave the novella such an ethereal atmosphere, in my opinion. I couldn’t wait to keep reading, it just pulled me right along and painted the story in my mind with ease. Everything went along at an even pacing and flowed nicely. Honestly, I can’t properly describe it to do it justice so you should probably just go read it. It’s fantastic.
There is some diverse rep in this book, we have Chih who identifies as they/them and the Empress who is either a lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual. It isn’t explicitly stated so if you do know which it is, please let me know! I think it’s strongly implied she identifies as one of those though and I actually think Rabbit is bi or pan as well. The characters are so richly complex as well, the story really pulls on your heartstring while reading about the events they have experienced.
What I Loved:
- Gorgeous writing.
- Diverse, complex characters.
- Rich world building.
What I Didn’t Love:
- Honestly, I can’t think of anything that I disliked enough to comment on!
I highly recommend checking out “The Empress of Salt and Fortune” it has so much going for it whether you’re looking for a fresh take on fantasy, a quick read (it really is very short), or something with some Asian & LGTBQ+ rep. It’s a great little novella and I can’t wait to dig into the sequel!
Trigger Warnings: Body mutilation (against their will), death, murder, and mention of suicide
*** Huge thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review ****