Ok, so goodreads definitely lied to me.
Chih is traveling to see the eclipse and the new Empress’ Dragon Court When she stops to record the contents of the house Thriving Fortune, Empress In-Yo’s residence while she lived in exile. Told through the memories passed between an old woman named Rabbit and a non-binary Cleric named Chih, Empress of Salt and Fortune chronicles the unknown pieces of Empress In-Yo’s story.
I was promised by a friends’s review a “magical and cheerful” book, and while there was some magic, I definitely wouldn’t describe this book as cheerful. It is filled with love and friendship but also loss, revenge, and sacrifice.
Despite the fact that they don’t really end up being the main character, I did really like Chih. I kind of wish we saw more of them because I think they would be very interesting to watch interact with other characters. Rabbit was pretty cool, and seemed the most developed of any of the characters. In-Yo teetered on the edge of mystical/unknowable and not having enough detail. I did appreciate her morally grey aspects, but like Chih, I wanted to see more direct interactions involving her.
The writing was definitely beautiful and transportive, but as with many fantasy short stories, I found the world building disappointing. There were so many interesting concepts I wanted to see more of: the magic system, the road paved with ghosts (but only at night?), the Dragon Court. It was all soooo intriguing, but was only ever explained superficially.
Which leads me to my next point—I’m still confused. This would have worked much better as a prologue in my opinion. I could totally see it as the origin story of In-Yo, or even the current Empress. But as it stood as the first book in a series, I felt very much dropped in the middle of the world. It wasn’t that it felt like the author hadn’t figured out the background details (as I’ve found in some books), but rather like there was so much backstory that I just didn’t have access to.
I’m still not quite sure I understand what Rabbit was trying to convey to Chih. It felt very deep and meaningful, and perhaps my very small brain just couldn’t comprehend it. Or, I’m overthinking everything and totally understand what happened. Who knows? Not me! Overall I did enjoy the slight mystery, writing, and what we did see of characters. I think I would give the second book a shot to see if we learn more about the world and characters.
Intended audience YA
Content warnings: murder, infertility