Member Reviews

'When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain (The Singing Cycle 2)' by Nghi Vo is a book set in the world of 'The Empress of Salt and Fortune.'

Cleric Chih is on a journey with a guide and a large mammoth. When they stop at a waystation for the night, they are set upon by hungry tigers. Chih starts a dialogue that becomes a night of storytelling, but will it be enough to escape fate?

I have thoroughly enjoyed both books I've read in this series. There is a mood and element of surprise to each that is like an intricately wrapped gift.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for giving me a free copy of this advanced copy of the book to read and review.

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This is really two stories for the price of one. In the tradition of Scheherazade and 1001 Nights, our narrator, the cleric Chih, tells a story to keep themself and their traveling companion from being dinner when tigers come to call. The narrative switches between the two stories, with the tigers interrupting to correct the story when Chih tells it wrong, and threatening continuously to eat them if they get the story wrong enough times. The atmosphere is tense and contains a sense of dread for what might happen to Chih and their guide, will their story be enough to keep them alive?

#WhentheTigerCameDowntheMountain #NetGalley

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DNF at 21%. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first instalment, but I enjoyed the writing enough to continue reading this series of novellas. Unfortunately, I found this one quite boring...

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This was a beautifully written story and a wonderful sequel to the first book. I’m excited to read more from this author.

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The power of stories, this book is sheer brilliance. A non-binary character, who travels around the world, collecting and living stories and folklores. A stunning sequel

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Wonderful sequel to Empress of Salt and Fortune. The cleric Chih still forms the instigator for the telling of this tale, but this time it is a an exploration of storytelling itself and how stories change depending on who is telling them. Once again there is a beautiful queer love story woven in and the plot is driven by tension and narrative acuity rather than conflict. This was simply stunning.

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Even though it was a novella, it was very well written! The world-building was fantastic! Thus, it was awesome to revisit The Empress of Salt and Fortune world!

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I really enjoyed Empress of Salt and Fortune, so I was already expecting good things in this companion. It exceeded my expectations, and I enjoyed it even more than the first book. This book is deliciously queer, suspenseful, and a thoughtful exploration the complexities of historiography and oral storytelling traditions. The visceral imagery of the book was captivating and unsettling.

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When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain was such a delight to read. Interesting characters with an interesting storytelling technique shifting between a story being told within the story, but the same time has a plot within the original story. I really enjoyed how the tiger's always was like "no, this is wrong", and we got to see how the same story is being told differently depending of who you are.

I'm very intrigued to pick up the first book in this novella series and then continue to pick them up. They are perfect for those who want to read some fantasy stories, but don't want to pick up those big bricks of books.

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Nghi Vo is one of the up and coming authors I've kept my eye on for a while, and this novella did not disappoint.

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In this second book of Nghi Vo’s The Singing Hills Cycle, Cleric Chih continues their journey to collect stories. Chih’s travels have taken them to the cold north of the Anh Empire. Seeking safe passage through the Kihir Pass, they enlist the aid of mammoth scout Si-yu and her partner, the mammoth Piluk. On the way, however, they find themselves at the mercy of three tiger sisters, who desire to eat them. To buy time for rescue, Chih narrates the story of the tiger Ho Thi Thao and Dieu, her scholar lover. But every story has two sides. As Chih recounts the version they heard growing up, the tigers interject with their own version of the tale.

Once again, Nghi Vo immerses readers in a fully realized world within the short time. She does this with subtle ease through casual references to details from history, allusions to fictional characters, and tantalizing descriptions of food, all of which suggests the presence of a larger world. I love how she gives us just enough to make us curious without feeling the need to explain herself. These places, people, and cultural elements simply exist.

In the time since the first book, Almost Brilliant has laid a clutch of eggs and is absent, for she must sit on them. While no one can replace the tongue-in-cheek neixin, we have, in her place, Si-yu to offer commentary and ask questions as a third-party audience to the story being told. Si-yu is strong, opinionated, personable. She’s rough around the edges, but fiercely protective and loyal. I especially liked her relationship with Piluk.

Like book 1, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain invites the reader to question how stories are told. In The Empress of Salt and Fortune, the handmaiden Rabbit is a biased narrator who has spent her life protecting Empress In-yo’s secrets. When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain presents two versions of events: the version that humans tell, and the version that the tigers tell. Both people groups have motivation to present their people in a better light. As a result, while both stories maintain the core elements of Ho Thi Thao and Dieu’s story, certain details are changed, leading to contradictions.

This leads to the question of who has the right telling of the story? The humans or the tigers? Or perhaps both versions have been distorted over time in the telling, and neither have the full truth. As the heroines of the story are long gone, we can only make our best guess—or follow Cleric Chih’s example and lay the two side-by-side to let future readers judge the truth for themselves.

In a way, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is also a story of manners. While tigers and other supernatural creatures are depicted as terrifying beings who wouldn’t hesitate to devour humans, some are shown to abide by rules. If treated as people, they will reciprocate in kind, though they may reserve the right to slay the guest that displeases them.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is a wonderful addition to The Singing Hills Cycle. I look forward to the next book in this novella series and, honestly, to anything else that Nghi Vo puts out!

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The main character in this book is Chih, a monk who wanders collecting stories to contribute to the archives of their monastery, Singing Hills. Chih usually has a hoopoe bird companion, Almost Brilliant, but Almost Brilliant is sitting with their clutch of eggs right now so Chih is solo. This would absolutely be a dream job for me- spend my time looking for stories with an intelligent animal companion? Sign me up!

There's also a good bit of adventure involved. In this particular instance, Chih is being escorted up a difficult mountain pass by scouts who ride mammoths ( I would ride a mammoth!). They are cornered, along with one scout and a small mammoth, by a trio of tigers. The only hope is for Chih and their companions to hold out until morning when reinforcements might possibly arrive. Since Chih has only stories to defend themselves with, they begin the story they know of a young scholar and the tiger that becomes fascinated with her, tracking her throughout the country. In this world, tigers can talk if they choose to, and Chih has been polite enough that they do, because the tigers have their own version of this story and unsurprisingly it does not match what Chih has learned. I love reconciling different versions of stories and history, and if not for the danger of being eaten this would be a great way to spend the night.

This story is a clever meditation on who tells which version of history and why. There are also magical talking tigers, mammoths, and cleverness, and I've got to say that I am truly impressed with this author. She's rising to the top of my favorite authors list faster than a striking tiger.

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I enjoyed this novella. I liked it so much I bought a physical copy. I'm looking forward to reading her first full-length novel.

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Once again beautifully written in a way that left me wanting more, Nghi Vo has crafted a world in the two novellas set in this universe that just flow so beautifully

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I didn’t fully finished this book but got to about 80 percent. Frankly I was a bit dissapointed given I liked the first one so much. It felt like a mid series book that dragged without purpose

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Vo’s novella is the second story featuring scholar-cleric Chih, who collects stories from far off places in order for them to be recorded for the archives at Singing Hills. In Chih’s first story (The Empress of Salt and Fortune), they and their recorder bird, Almost Brilliant, had an adventure; now Almost Brilliant is tending a clutch of eggs, leaving Chich to journey on their own. Luckily, Chich has guide Si-yu, a mammoth corps scout, to lead them through the mountains.

Unluckily, there are three tigers hunting in the mountains, and a lone mammoth and a few humans seem like a tasty meal. Si-yu and her mammoth, Piluk, reach safety, and Chih calls an uneasy truce with the tigers: Chih knows the tale of Ho Thi Thao’s marriage, and they ask the tigers to correct it for Singing Hills. The tigers refuse to tell their version—the true version—but they’re willing to let Chih tell the version they know, and correct the cleric when they get things wrong.

And so Chih tells the story of Ho Thi Thao and her human wife, Scholar Dieu—all the while, during the tale, keeping the hungry tigers from eating the humans. Chih weaves elements of ghosts—and the tigers add fox spirits, correcting the story; Chih gives a version in which human Dieu has most of the agency, and the tigers correct the tale to make Ho Thi Thao the hero. The story always feels very tightly organic to the Singing Hills cycle: the mammoths are a particularly delightful element of the setting, and the talking tigers, who can take the form of humans, feel a true part of the setting once readers (and Si-yu) become accustomed to the idea of conversing with them. In fact, Si-yu often takes the side of the tigers, preferring the details they give the story to Chih’s version.

But while the world is very much its own, the story is very reminiscent of the traditional tale of Scheherezade, who staved off death with her stories night after night. While When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain feels very much a new story, it also feels familiar, the way that being tucked in with a familiar bedtime story might, especially for readers accustomed to bedtime stories with the threat of being eaten by tigers.

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This was the second novella of Nghi Vo's that I've read, and while I know many loved Empress of Salt, this has become my favourite. Folklore, mythology, and storytelling are some of my favourite themes and styles.

Following the cleric Chih into the mountains, a trio of tigers ambushes the group where they quickly settle into a stalemate. Here begins a tale of the tiger Ho Thi Thao and her human bride. Chih and the tigers trade the story back and forth, correcting each other to the "true" history of the tale. And I loved this; "no no no, you're all wrong, it was like This". It's a fairly staple art of storytelling, but one I really enjoy.

Vo's writing continues to impress me; like Empress of Salt, the characters have such strong personalities, the story is very vibrant. With this, I think Vo has cemented their works as something to be on the lookout for.

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With When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, Nghi Vo returns us to the Empire of Ahn and the adventures of the story-collecting Cleric Chih, first encountered in The Empress of Salt and Fortune. In this stellar follow-up, Vo continues to ruminate on the importance of storytelling, of cultural memory, of understanding how fact becomes legend. But in Tiger, Vo also confronts the way the act of storytelling changes when the audience is, at best, not receptive or, even worse, hostile, and how different cultures may see the same story through conflicting lenses. Along the way, the author also plays with our own expectations of how the story will be told, based on our experience of the previous novella.

The novella opens with Chih making a new friend: a mammoth-riding soldier named Si-yu who has been commissioned to help Chih cross a mountain pass before an incoming storm makes the trip impossible. They plan to stop at a high shelter run by Bao-so, Si-yu’s fellow soldier. But when they arrive, Bao-su has been injured and is about to be killed by a trio of hungry tiger sisters. In short order, Si-yu, Chih, and the mammoth Piluk rescue the unconscious fellow but find themselves trapped in a barn by the tigers. The tigers announce that they will gladly let the mammoth go free but plan to eat the humans. Chih attempts to buy some time for rescue by explaining their mission—collecting stories for the abbey at Singing Hills—would be greatly enhanced by hearing the tiger sisters’ personal stories, or some of the history of their kin. Singing Hills’ library currently contains only the legends of the tigers Ho Dong Vinh and Ho Thi Thao. Ho Sinh Loan, the eldest of the tiger sisters and proclaimed queen of the region in which the travelers find themselves, decides that it would be better for Chih to tell the story as they know it, with the tigers correcting anything the human gets wrong. “Best not to get it wrong too often,” one of Sinh Loan’s younger sisters advises Chih.

And so Chih the story collector becomes Chih the storyteller. The legend Chih is asked to recount is one the Cleric seems very familiar with; one they could probably tell almost in their sleep if they audience weren’t hostile. Ready to interrupt and to disagree over details both significant and inconsequential, the tigers argue more with each other than with the teller of the tale. This naturally changes the way Chih tells the story, wondering at every turn what will upset Sinh Loan or one of her sisters: Sinh Cam (excitable and interested in hearing Chih’s alternate version of the story she already knows so well) and Sinh Hoa (who comes across as bored and sleepy, but who I doubt very much is ever actually asleep).

As with any tale of an encounter between two cultures, who is centered depends on who is telling the story. The version of the courtship between the tiger queen Ho Thi Thao and her scholarly human lover Dieu that Chih knows clearly places the human as the heart of the story. Everything Ho Thi Thao does is in reaction to Dieu, and borne of the tiger’s immediate and intense attraction to the human. When Thao and Dieu argue, Dieu is almost always in the right or comes out the better, and ultimately it is the noble human who sacrifices everything she ever wanted to save and redeem the savage beast. In the tiger’s version, it is Dieu who betrays Thao at every turn, the duplicitous human spurning the great gift of the honorable tiger’s love and endangering her. Through the alternating takes of Chih and Sinh Loan (and sometimes her sisters), we see how both cultures have passed down the story in order to affirm that their culture is more civilized and honorable than the other. The stories differ in other culturally significant ways as well: in a scene in which Ho Thi Thao saves Dieu, for instance, the threat is from human ghosts in Chih’s version but trickster foxes in the tigers’ iteration, implying something about the way each culture views the “afterlife” and what scares them.

Why do the human and tiger versions of this story vary so greatly? Through dialogue and through Chih’s private thoughts, Vo show us that even those these two cultures exist in the same region of the same world, they have failed to interact. In fact, near the start of the book, the tigers and humans each equally appear surprised that the others can not only talk but apply reason and intellect—and therefore they must treat each other as equals for the night rather than just easily dispatched prey. It’s pretty clear that what few previous interactions tigers and humans have had have been distrustful and violent, despite the example set by Ho Thi Thao and Dieu (who, after all, did fall in love with one another). It’s not easy for different versions of a legend to coalesce if the holders of those versions don’t communicate at all. And yet, throughout the book, the disparate sides find some commonalities.

Just as Cleric Chih and Ho Sinh Loan have expectations of how the tale of Ho Thi Thao and Dieu will be told and remembered, we readers similarly come into When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain with expectations. The Empress of Salt and Fortune was also about learning the truth behind a legend, the truth being spooled out to Chih and their avian companion Almost Brilliant (who is sorely missed in Tiger but whose absence is explained) by a mysterious elder. I was intrigued by the woman Rabbit, but never felt that Chih was in actual danger from her; the tone was more that of an honored elder telling an extended campfire story over the course of several nights. Not so Sinh Loan and her sisters. They are a threat from the moment they are introduced, putting Chih in the role of Scheherazade for one long night to save their own life as well as those of Si-yu and Bao-so. To survive the night and take their notes on the tigers’ version of the legend back to Singing Hills, Chih must not only please the imperious Sinh Loan, but also her sisters. The tigers’ personalities are as at odds with each other as they are with the humans they are waiting to eat.

Eventually, the night, the storytelling, and the stand-off between humans and tigers must all end. Vo ties up all three in a wonderful fight sequence that mirrors the chase scene at the beginning and allows Si-yu, Piluk and all three tigers to battle it out while still leaving questions about what the future holds for all of them. One wonders if the encounter between the Cleric Chih and the Tiger Sisters will someday be told in both cultures and what differences each version of the story will hold.

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The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

Nghi Vo returns to the empire of Ahn and The Singing Hills Cycle in When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, a mesmerizing, lush standalone follow-up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune.

amazing second book

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