Saturday, June 3, 2023

The Empress of Salt and Fortune

Nghi Vo
Completed 6/3/2023, Reviewed 6/3/2023
3 stars

I read this book because it is the first of a series of novellas of which the third was nominated for a 2023 Lambda Literary Award.  It is a much loved story with a big fan base.  Well, I didn’t care for it.  I found it gorgeously written, but hard to follow.  In fact, I was lost through most of it until the end.  It’s told in a series of flashbacks by a handmaiden of an empress in a pseudo-China empire.  Fortunately, the other books are not direct sequels, though it follows the journey of Cleric Chih, to whom in this book the flashbacks are relayed.

Chih is walking through the forest with their trusty talking bird and come upon a small house.  It is inhabited by an old woman nicknamed Rabbit.  Over the following days, Rabbit tells stories of her time with In-yo, the girl brought from the north to marry the emperor for political reasons.  After bearing an heir, she is exiled and the emperor invades her homeland.  Rabbit comforts her in despair and plays games with her as well, as she waits for liberation and revenge.

Most of the way through this 120 page novella, I felt like I missed the point of the stories about In-yo and Rabbit.  These vignettes were very short and were followed by Rabbit asking Chih if they understood it.  Whether Chih did or not, I didn’t.  Based on reading other reviews, there’s a lot of female rage and condemnation of patriarchal monarchy in the vignettes, but I simply missed it.  I’m hoping the next two books in the series are not quite as esoteric as this one.  I give this book three stars out of five because the prose is wonderful.  I just wish the story was more accessible.

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