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Summary

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.

©2020 Nghi Vo (P)2020 Tantor

What listeners say about The Empress of Salt and Fortune

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

beautiful, calm and engaging

wish it was longer! listened on .8 speed just to prolong the experience. beautifully crafted.

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  • Josh Angel
  • 06-08-20

I feel like I’m not smart enough to understand why this is supposed to be so great

This book failed to connect with me. I read several reviews talking about how lush and clever this story is, even an NPR review gushing about it. I just felt like it was OK.

The story is about an empresses servant who tells her life story and time with the empress. There’s a small twist at the end. The story is being recorded by a young woman with a sentient bird who is in some form of symbiotic relationship with her, and the bird has perfect recall.

The narrator was ok. Very little inflection or emotion, almost robotic, but perhaps that was what the story called for. The story is rather cold and devoid of emotion.

I feel like I must not be smart enough to understand why this is so great.

48 people found this helpful

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  • Kiji Marie Gilcrest
  • 12-01-21

An Entrancing Experience

This is a rather short novella, but it is exactly as long as it needs to be. It’s truly a testament to Nghi Vo’s ability as a storyteller, and Cindy Kay’s ability as a narrator, that I spent every second of this book under a spell. It reminded me of listening to my mother tell me stories from our island late at night, about a time and place that can no longer be reached but must always be remembered. Every syllable seemed important, every reveal monumental, despite the quiet nature of the story itself. I loved this book more than I can describe, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys quiet fantasy, tales of resistance, and deeply immersive storytelling.

18 people found this helpful

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  • RNov2010
  • 08-01-21

A dream of a book

The combination of the writer and the narrator blends into a poetry of a story.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Phx17
  • 11-06-22

Like a too subtle haiku

I realize haikus are from a different Asian venue… but the novella itself mixes themes like feudal Asia, fantasy and modern gender monikers, so I feel like the simile works.

Overall, I loved the mood, liked the concept, but got a little lost in the execution. Much of the novella is told by indirect references to things, from two characters coupling to the disappearance of this, that, or the other woman. Magic’s role is little more than myth and prophecy. Add in the confusion of the cleric Chih being unevenly called “she” on occasion and “they” more often than not, and it took effort to read between the vague lines of this story to see the picture hidden behind the shoji screen. The most detailed descriptions are of the objects described at the start of each chapter (Like ch10: “Tin shrine token: badger with one paw raised…” or ch2: “robe: silk, silk thread, ruby bead, green background embroidered with darker green leaves…”). Like the story itself, the significance of these chapter starters eluded me.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Amy
  • 03-05-22

Captivating!

This book and it’s narration took me on a fairytale journey that was filled with such beautiful imagery and imagination. The softness of the narration fits the sweetness of the tale so wonderfully. Beautiful!

7 people found this helpful

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  • Astral
  • 27-01-22

Simple and elegant

This books packs so much meaning into so few pages. It is well written and performed well.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Original_Patricia
  • 10-06-22

Impressive elegantly written storytelling

This story was made for audiobook. The narration transported me to the locations of the story as I became "Rabbit" and experienced the magnificence of the Empress and these few years of her life.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Andrew Jay Jordan
  • 08-07-21

Really well written!

I really loved this book! The writing style made it sound like a fairy tale, which is very fitting.

5 people found this helpful

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  • McKenna Morrigan
  • 30-06-21

Well crafted, engaging story

At first I was a bit put off by the formal tone and halting unfurling of the story in the beginning, but I was quickly captivated by the world and the characters so deftly and efficiently built. By the end, I was enthralled!

5 people found this helpful

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  • Star
  • 25-06-22

What???

I usually like these type of stories. This was confusing. I wasn’t clear on who was who and what was going on. Although I’m glad it wasn’t any longer perhaps it should have been to add in more detail.

1 person found this helpful