Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of the novella as a voting member of WorldCon 2021

That. Was. Awesome! It’s no wonder that it won the Hugo for best novella. I wasn’t able to get to it in time to vote, but this month it’s the Sword and Laser pick and I’m so glad that it was! Because this story seems short even for a novella (71 pages in my PDF version; not counting the preview for the next entry in the series), it’s a bit hard to convey too much about why I liked it without spoiling the story. Here’s my attempt:

First off, the cover is metaphorical. The animals will all make sense by the time you’re done with the story, but it’s not an Aesop Fables situation. Accordingly, the fantasy elements are minimal. They’re almost non-existent. Really they boil down to: ghosts are real, our main character has a bird that can talk, people can (in a Greek mythology fashion – although, given the context of this book, maybe it spans more cultures than that) become animals because of their grief or strong emotion.

Second, the frame story is one of our cleric (either non-gendered or perhaps losing conception of gender by becoming a cleric) from a monastery with a mission to catalog all lost information. The cleric heads to a house that was used in the past as a location to exile certain people the Emperor didn’t want around, but didn’t want to kill. (Don’t want to spoil too much there) The cleric meets someone there who tells the main story of the book.

The story unfolds as it is told and leads to many twists and surprises that delighted me.

It takes place in a (as far as I can tell) second world fantasy location that is reminiscent of China or, perhaps, a pan-asian identity since many of the cultures there refer to older folks as “grandma” even if not related by blood, etc.

I could not put the book down and heartily recommend it. It’s a very, very quick read (I think on Sword and Laser they mentioned that the audiobook is 2-3 hours long) and so even if you don’t like it, you’re not settling in for a long slog. Although I won’t get to it until later this year, I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

View all my reviews