The Empress of Salt and Fortune: 04/11/20
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo is a slim but dense story set in a fantasy realm similar to ancient China. It's told over the course of a day or so of sojourning at a disused mansion. In it's narrative structure it is similar to Conrad's Heart of Darkness but not in tone, or thankfully, unnecessary complexity.
A cleric and their magical bird have come to rest on their way to record an eclipse. They are given shelter by an old woman named Rabbit. She offers them a place to stay if they help clear out the store rooms while listening to her tales of the Empress In-Yo, exiled from the North.
Thus it's through these conversations and monologues that the tale of a young woman sent from the North to a harsh life in the Imperial Court. Each story is tied to some aspect of the house — a room, a piece of ephemera, an antique, a game the two play while chatting. And each story ends with a question, some variation on "Do you understand?"
The cleric says they do at the end of each story. Rabbit, though, only truly accepts this answer at the end. The astute reader will also be asked if they understand. Pay attention. What is the truth behind Rabbit's story?