ARC Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama 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. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.

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★★.5✩✩

I appreciate what this book did but it really wasn’t for me.

Usually I like to start certain books knowing almost nothing about them, and this is what I did with this novella as well. In hindsight this has proved to be a mistake on my part: I think I would have benefited from reading some reviews, although I don’t think it would have changed my enjoyment of it.

My biggest problem: I’m not someone who can read descriptions and see a clear picture in my head, unless I want to spend a lot (and I really mean a lot) of mental capacity focused on this task alone, which means sometimes spending five minutes on a paragraph alone. Something I frankly wasn’t ready to do with a 100-pages novella. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have the impression that most of this book was made of descriptions, and yet I just somehow never saw it in my head. I guess I can fairly say that the writing style, while objectively good, was simply something I didn’t vibe with.

The story is more about female friendship and female agency than any particular big event, and it’s a story that happened decades ago and is now told by Rabbit to Chih, who uses they/them. It’s a story told through objects as well as words, and I do think it was very interesting to see. I was impressed to see how minor characters from the past had a complete personality even when they were only on page for maybe one chapter at the time. I more than once thought character X was going to become very important, only for them to never appear again. How they became so vivid in the span of a few paragraphs is beyond me and I think the author really did a great job there.

It’s always hard to realize a book is not for you when everyone 5-stars it, and especially it being casually queer I really wanted to love it more than I did, but the truth is while I enjoyed some parts I kept feeling like there was something wrong with me for not caring about it or not seeing what everyone else is seeing. I do want to keep an eye on the author but this unfortunately fell short for me.

4 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

  1. Great review Silvia! This one wasn’t for me either which I was so sad about because everyone seemed to be giving it 5-stars! I definitely see why but I just couldn’t connect to the writing style.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, it seems it’s not even a “hit or miss” book but more of a “hit or don’t care” book? Anyway I’m glad I’m not the only one who couldn’t add it to my favorites, I did feel a little scared posting this review lol!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. glad i’m not the only one to not really be able to see things in my head! it’s fine with some books and i can imagine just enough, but it just didn’t work here!

      Liked by 1 person

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