In a land that resembles Imperial China, a travelling cleric called Chih travels with their talking Hoopoe to the new empress’s first Dragon Court. Along the way she meets an old woman called Rabbit who, it turns out, was the handmaiden to the previous Empress, In-yo. Eager to record her story, Chih sits with Rabbit and listens.
It might sound like a pretty conventional set-up, but what follows is anything but what you’d expect. Nghi Vo’s remarkable novella, the first in her Singing Hills Cycle, hums with beauty and magical energy, even when traversing some pretty awful terrain. It’s brilliantly subversive, both in terms of its narrative form and its cultural and societal critique. Indeed, In-yo’s path from scorned chattel to machiavellian mastermind is a rebellious fist to the face of patriarchal orthodoxy. And yet it’s done so subtly, so intelligently, that I was left in awe.
The Empress of Sand and Fortune centres queer and women’s voices, reclaiming and celebrating their narratives. And though it might be slim, it is as vast an epic as any book ten times its length. Can’t wait to read the others.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Thank you for this review. I have now ordered it.
This novella was lauded by the sf&f community, being awarded the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 2021 as well as being shortlisted for other awards in the field. Vo is an innovative new voice in the field. I'll be interested to see what you think of the sequel, as I didn't think it showed the innovation of this first story - which is hardly surprising. The third in the series has just been published, but I haven't gotten to it yet.