This was a wonderfully crafted story. There was so much world building and detail packed into such a small package, but without ever seeming overbearing.
The story’s two main characters are Chih, a cleric (that seems to specialise in gathering historical accounts and artefacts) and Rabbit, the former handmaiden to the Empress. The Empress has just died, and some of the places that had been forbidden to visit had been opened again. The story takes places in one of those, a house by a lake where the Empress was in exile (after bearing the emperor a son). As just one of many wives, this sort of thing happened.
However, the Empress was a daughter of the north and very, very canny. And while the story is a bit about how that happened, it’s also about friendship and hardship, difficult choices but also honour.
I love Chih and their companion Almost Brilliant (who seems like a sentient bird, I suppose) who is a neixin. Not sue if there is cultural context that I’m missing (probably), but regardless, I really enjoyed Almost Brilliant. It also hints at this larger world building that I want to find out more about (if there are sequels, please be sequels).
Other elements included somoene’s wife turning into a kingfisher or other people having incredibly long lives. There were just all these tantalising glimpses at this rich and varied universe that I really want to spend some more time in.
The story itself was just very well woven, told through different artefacts (which again helped with the world building) that had belonged to the empress during her time in exile. Rabbit and Chih had very different personalities, alongside the Empress who we se through the eyes of Rabbit.
I absolutely loved the ending, it was just so very satisfying for some reason. Like the culmination of friendship in exile, of sacrifices and love. Anyway, it was lovely and you should totally read it.