There are times in your life when you really need a deeply engrossing story that will take you away from the here and now for the space of a couple hours. One of those times is when you’re sitting in an emergency room waiting for them to confirm your pulmonary embolism. One of those stories in Nghi Vo’s novella The Empress of Salt and Fortune. I don’t recommend the former, but I do recommend the later.
A historic fantasy in a China-inspired setting, the story uses a quiet, measured narrative style to build tension with the feel of a thriller. Quite a feat when the action is all in the past and one of the principle characters has just died. The framing story involves the non-binary monk Chih, whose vocation is to collect histories, and whose immediate task is to unravel certain mysteries known to the empress’s handmaiden, Rabbit. The empress is a political hostage, imprisoned, powerless…or is she? There are several delightful twists to the plot, and half the fun is trying to guess what they’ll be from the scraps and clues, in parallel with Chih’s quest.
The narrative style is likely to be different from what you expect from a fantasy novel, but I recommend embracing it and letting it lead you, bit by bit, into the story. There’s a second novella featuring another of Chih’s story-collecting adventures and I’m looking forward to equal enjoyment. Oh, and both books have sapphic elements, so there's that as well.