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.
Winner, 2020 Crawford Award
Winner, 2020 Reddit’s Stabby Award
A 2020 ALA Booklist Top Ten SF/F Debut | A Book Riot Must-Read Fantasy of 2020 | A Paste Most Anticipated Novel of 2020 | A Library Journal Debut of the Month | A Buzzfeed Must-Read Fantasy Novel of Spring 2020 | A Goodreads Choice Award Finalist | A Washington Post Best SFF of the Year So Far Pick | Named Book Riot‘s Best Book Cover of 2020
Named a Best of 2020 Pick by NPR | Library Journal | NYPL | Chicago Public Library | The Austen Chronicle | Autostraddle
“Dangerous, subtle, unexpected and familiar, angry and ferocious and hopeful… The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a remarkable accomplishment of storytelling.”—NPR
“A stunning feminist fantasy. . . . The subtlety and nuance of Vo’s evocative storytelling lend the novella an epic, timeless feel. Equal parts love and rage, this masterfully told story is sure to impress.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Vo’s debut has it all: from sapphic love to cruel betrayals; from political intrigue to lakes that glow red to ghosts that continue to walk old paths. . . . The Empress of Salt and Fortune will appeal to all fans of epic fantasy, and readers will be excited to read whatever Vo comes up with next.”—Booklist, starred review
“This fantasy novella reminded me more of the anthropological leanings of Ursula K. Le Guin’s work set in an imperial Chinese fantasy world. . . . Uncovers a nuanced history of how the disenfranchised shape history, and can come to rule it, though at great cost.”—Buzzfeed
“Rich details and emotional prose captures readers from the first page of this imaginative and powerful novella. Spun through reflections of the past, in archived objects of love and hate, the tale of Rabbit and In-yo lights up the dark history of monarchy and turns it into a delightful feminist fantasy.”—Library Journal
“Nghi Vo’s gorgeous debut novella…follows two women defying traditional gender roles with striking results.”—Paste
“A masterpiece of understatement and implication. This is the little black dress of books: it gives the impression of effortlessness while being quietly meticulous in every stitch. And it’s for everyone.”—Nerd Daily
“An elegant gut-punch, a puzzle box that unwinds itself in its own way and in its own time. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Gorgeous. Cruel. Perfect. I didn’t know I needed to read this until I did.”—Seanan McGuire
“A quiet, wrenching tale of resistance, resilience, and court intrigue.”—R. F. Kuang
“Nghi Vo’s gracefully told debut The Empress of Salt and Fortune resides in the intimate margins of its (beautifully imagined) world’s history, portraying how the marginalized may yet shape those narratives and harness the power of stories.”—Indrapramit Das
“A tale of rebellion and fealty that feels both classic and fresh, The Empress of Salt and Fortune is elegantly told, strongly felt, and brimming with rich detail. An epic in miniature, beautifully realised.”—Zen Cho
“At once epic and intimate, this story of revenge, power and the weight of history is a small, masterful jewel.”—Aliette de Bodard
“A glorious, beautifully-written tale that is both tragic and triumphant, unfolding a secret history through the ordinary artifacts of everyday life.”—Kate Elliott