Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle #1), by Nghi Vo, March 2020

In an Asian empire that is not China, but perhaps based on it, Cleric Chih and their intelligent, talking bird, Almost Brilliant, are sent on a mission from the Singing Hills abbey to document the history of a former empress's place of exile.

In-yo came to Anh to marry its emperor, as a young woman from the far north, from a different culture, with a rich dowry, but no friends or allies. She learned the customs and ways of her new country, and gave birth to a son to be the heir.

Then she is banished to a rural estate called Thriving Fortune, a house that overlooks Scarlet Lake.

Chih arrives on their assignment after the place has been closed off for half a century, and finds there an old woman, the empress's former handmaid, Rabbit.

The story alternates between Chih and Almost Brilliant as Chih works their way through documents, artifacts, and lesser stories from Rabbit, and Rabbit telling larger stories about her time with the Empress, both at court and in exile. It's fascinating, surprising, and absorbing. It's a story about smart use of soft power, female strength and courage, and revenge. It takes some surprising turns, and the characters are complex and interesting.

Well worth your time.

I bought this book.

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