Cover Image: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

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Member Reviews

In the second of the Singing Hills Cycle, Vo transports us back to the empire of Ahn, this time telling the story of the cleric Chih and their companions who find themselves at the mercy of very hungry tigers. Chih must tell the story of her lover and the tiger in order to save them.

I am really enjoying this series. These novellas are sweeping stories of friendship, love, and adventure with a good dose of lore and fantasy. I also appreciated that it was a follow-up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune but it’s a fully stand-alone story. So while I definitely recommend reading the first one, you won’t be lost if you dive into Ahn by starting with this one.

The flowy language and sweeping stories are escapist, one of my favorite things about fiction, and it’s short, so if you’re pressed for time but still want something cool to enjoy, you won’t have to spend weeks combing through a tome.

This one’s out now, and I can wait for more from Vo and the world of Ahn.
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WHEN THE TIGER CAME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN is Nghi Vo’s second book, after her beautiful, wonderfully-crafted novella The Empress of Salt and Fortune. When the Tiger is a standalone that follows the insatiably curious Cleric Chih on another outing to document the history and folklore of the Ahn Empire for their order of monks, The Singing Hills. Accompanied by their guide Si-yu, a young scout from one of the northern tribes, they are waylaid in a snowy mountain pass by a pack of tigers with an affinity for storytelling – and human flesh. Can Chih appease the tigers long enough to prevent their untimely death and, perhaps more importantly for Chih, can they unravel the intricately-layered story of a famous tiger and her scholar lover?

Nghi Vo knows how to tell a beautiful, engaging and sometimes heart breaking story. More uniquely, she knows how to tell a story about telling stories. I talked a lot in my review of The Empress of Salt and Fortune about how we aren’t reading a story exactly how it happened, but a story filtered through layers of human experience and memory. When the Tiger is like that too, but much more directly. Chih, as a chronicler of history, culture and folklore, is a skilled storyteller and throughout the course of this book the only thing keeping them and Si-yu alive are (from the tigers perspective) the misrepresentations in the telling of one of their most treasured tales – misrepresentations they feel duty bound to correct before devouring their captives.

It’s a great narrative style that has tension baked into its very bones, while delving deep into the culture of the book’s world, through examining how its folklore and stories have developed over time, in a way that feels natural and engaging. I really love in fantasy books when writers hint at the existence of wider cultural touchstones like collections of fairy tales in that world and sometimes wish I could actually read those tales. Well, When the Tiger is like that, except it focusses on the oral telling of one particular tale told through different lenses.

The way Nghi Vo structures the two Singing Hills Cycle stories is quite wonderful, skipping between ‘the present’ and the memory world of the story within the story. It allows us to feel steeped in that culture of her world while also exploring the character of those telling and listening to those stories and how they respond to the exchange. I feel like I got to know Cleric Chih much better in this book; it was always apparent they were driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge, that they thrive on stories and the discovery of stories, but this book shows the lengths they’ll go to in order to dig those stories up. In Chih’s mind, it’s almost worth dying to have the chance to hear the tigers tell their version of the fraught love story of their most revered ancestor and her scholar lover.

I really loved the relationships between the three tigers keeping Chih and Si-yu captive too. They are sisters, all with very different personalities. Their leader Sinh Loan is proud, intelligent and easily offended. She is the one who becomes most agitated at what she perceives as the inaccuracies in Chih’s version of the story and threatens on multiple occasions to eat them just to teach them a lesson. Sinh Hoa is seemingly much more relaxed, spending much of the book dozing by the fire while Chih and Sinh Loan verbally spar over the story, though it seemed to me that all the while she had one eye open, so to speak. Sinh Cam is much more chatty, getting involved with the conversation and sometimes coming into conflict with Sinh Loan over how to deal with Chih and Si-yu. All this was just a pleasure to read and watching it play out while also being fully invested in the second story they were telling each other added this layer of complexity to the book that just made me smile.

Nghi Vo is just great folks, I loved this book and I’m really hoping there’s gonna be more Singing Hills Cycle books. In the meantime I’m super excited for The Chosen and the Beautiful, her fantasy reimagining of The Great Gatsby in a world of infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries, which is coming out in June 2021. If that sounds great and you haven’t read The Empress of Salt and Fortune or When The Tiger then I really do recommend them, they’re just wonderful.
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When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain was perfectly delightful. It was just right.
While not as epic and political as Empress of Salt and Fortune it was filles instead with romance and poetry and magic and monsters. It has a amazing atmosphere and felt like I was actually listening to an old Chinese folktale. It also a solid human/power ancient mythical creature romance with the tropes I loved in this dynamic (eg: tiger rules, logic and morality being different and strange to humans). 
And it was damn romantic and caught myself tearing up with feelings. (Damn I also want a girlfriend) 
Like the first novella I loved the format of a story within a story and how a legend can get warped over time as it gets passed down orally. And I'm so glad we got to see more of the world since the glimses we got in EoSaF had me craving for more. 

I highly recommend if you want a Asian period fantasy romance, lesbian romance or just a fun time. While beautiful, I don't think it was quite as exquisite as EoSaF or the writing as breathtaking, WtTCDtM was more fun, more romance centered and has a greater re-readability.

I received an e-arc in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley
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Like the first book in the Singing Hills Cycle, the utterly marvelous The Empress of Salt and Stars, this is a story that compels the reader to think and mull and ponder well after the final page is turned.

Part of what this reader was thinking and mulling and pondering was a phrase that kept cycling through my head, about “the smile on the face of the tiger”. I knew it came from somewhere – hence the cycling, so I had to look up the origin.

It’s a famous limerick, variously attributed to either Lear or the extremely prolific Anon, but is generally acknowledged to have been written by William Cosmo Monkhouse in the late 19th century.

Here it is in full:

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is a story about the smile on the face of the tiger. But as the story progresses, the question about exactly who is riding on which tiger, and which tiger is smiling at the end, changes.

There’s still a smile on the face of a tiger. But an even bigger smile on the face of an even larger animal. And a smile on the face of the humans who live to tell the story another day.

Escape Rating A: This is a story within a story. An academic is relating the story of the legendary tiger to an equally magnificent tiger – who is also telling the story to the academic. Both tale tellers have agendas. Chih wants to survive, The tiger Ho Sinh Loan wants the academic to relate the “correct” version of the tale, so that she can be assured that the majestic nature of her legendary kin is being properly presented to the humans. Sinh Loan may also want to eat the academic and their companions for dinner – and certainly will if the tale is told too incorrectly.

The night becomes a battle of wits and wills, as Chih both wants to live AND wants this new version of a well-known story. After all, that is their job, to collect such stories for the Singing Hills Monastery from which they came.

So the story is told, and adjusted, and told. As Chih hems and haws, obfuscates, and prays. And as her companions listen for the sound of approaching hoofbeats from the cavalry that they desperately hope will come to rescue them all in time for it to do them any good. And if not, Chih will at least leave her notes for the next academic to find.

Like its predecessor, The Empress of Salt and Fortune, this is a tiny box of a tale, short in length but utterly and charmingly encompassed within its brief length. And yet, even though it finishes satisfactorily as a story and doesn’t need to have been any longer, it still leaves the reader wishing there was more.

Not exactly of this story, because it is completely complete, but of this world. The cleric Chih who tells the story of the legendary tiger Ho Thi Thao to her overly punctilious tiger audience is a sister to Scheherazade, telling the tale in the hopes of spinning it out long enough to spare their own life and the lives of their companions. Chih is a collector of tales, and obviously has more of them to tell. The rather bloody conclusion of this particular story left this reader wanting to hear the rest.
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When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, the second instalment in Nghi Vo’s Singing Hills Cycle, follows the Cleric Chih on another of their journeys as this time they travel through the northern region of Anh. After reading the sheer brilliance that was The Empress of Salt and Fortune, I was understandably super excited for the second Singing Hills book, and I’m glad to report I ended up really enjoying this one!

At the beginning of the novella, we find Chih making their way to a local way station with the scout Si-yu and her mammoth Piluk. However, their journey comes to an abrupt halt when they are cornered by a trio of tigers who trap them in a barn. Chih soon discovers that the tigers can take up human forms and speak in the human tongue. When the tigers learn that Chih knows the human version of the legend of the tiger Ho Thi Thao - a story passed on among their kind, they demand Chih tell it to them.

Just like in The Empress of Salt and Fortune, this time too Vo opts for the story within a story format, which I personally find to be one of the aspects that makes these novellas so fascinating! At the tiger’s command, Chih goes on to recount the love story of the scholar Dieu and the tiger Ho Thi Thao as recorded in the Singing Hill archives. However, the tigers keep interrupting Chih to tell the tale as they know it, which turns out to be quite different from the human narrative. As the tigers insist their version of Ho Thi Thao’s legend is the real history, and the humans got it wrong, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain skilfully explores how there can be so many different interpretations of a narrative, and how only the victor’s side of a story is what history keeps account of.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain once again showcases Vo’s signature writing style - which is just the right mix of elegant, enchanting, and whimsical. Vo’s exploration of queer love in this book is achingly beautiful; and her worldbuilding is lush and detailed this time around as well as she takes us to a completely different side of Chih’s world.

However, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain didn't resonate with me as much as The Empress of Salt and Fortune. I’ll admit that is partly due to the fact that I’m a fan of political fantasy, and therefore just found the first book to be a lot more appealing. But except for that, I still didn’t really connect to any of the new characters introduced in this novella, and I really wish we had gotten to spend a little more time with them.

Having said that, despite the few drawbacks, I did still enjoy the second part of Chih’s saga, and I can’t wait to read more of Vo’s gorgeous, atmospheric writing! If you are a fan of the fantasy genre, you must give the Singing Hills novellas a try!
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Nghi Vo has just killed it this year with two novellas about a wandering archivist/cleric named Chih. Their job is to travel the world collecting stories for their magical talking bird who has a perfect memory so they may be recorded. As such, the entirety of the drama is told in the past tense through conversations with a servant who lived in the palace at the time it was going on. It’s an original way to tell a political drama. The advantage is that it makes the story easy to chop up and streamline without feeling like you are missing chunks of the plot. The two novellas have very different subjects, but are both fantastic. Empress tells the story of an outcast in a high court outwitting their rivals, while Tiger is a sorta rap off between two bards retelling the same story of a tiger falling in love with a human. Through clever writing and beautiful prose, Vo pulls the reader in no matter what story she’s telling. The two shorts are dripping with emotion that easily pulls you in and keeps you invested.
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Thanks to Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for access to this arc

Wow. Just wow. I really liked “The Empress of Salt and Fortune” but this novella blew me away. I’m only sorry, like cleric Chih, that Almost Brilliant is sitting on a clutch of eggs and couldn’t be there to add her avian two cents to the telling of the cleric’s tale and to how events fell out with the hungry tigers and angry mammoths. 

Though cleric Chih returns from the first story, this truly is a standalone and newbies to this world of Singing Hills (the monastery where clerics learn to gather, record and archive history) can easily start here. It’s a wonderful and inventive place where not only birds but also tigers talk – though I believe I’d rather hear Almost Brilliant’s snark to sitting all night trading alternate versions of a story with three hungry tigers who are already peeved even before they hear the butchered version of the tale cleric Chih relates.

Like Scheherazade spinning stories to stay alive for one more night, Chih must also use storytelling to save not only their own life but also that of the young mammoth scout and her injured relative. The tigers have graciously announced that they will let the mammoth go in the morning as long as Piluk doesn’t attempt to fight them or defend her scout. Luckily Chih knows a little about how to interact with tigers: be polite in order to prove to them that you are a civilized being and must be treated as such and don’t smile as your teeth can never match theirs.  

So Chih starts to tell the story they’ve learned to a very critical audience who knows the tiger version and are not best pleased with the way the humans have mangled it. Chih puts on their very best open face – the one they were taught at the monastery to use when gathering information – and politely requests that the tigers relay how they know the story then takes notes so that should they not survive this encounter, perhaps their notes will be taken back allowing both versions to be known. When the sister tigers fuss and disagree at times about the finer points, Chih thinks that this is what footnotes are for. 

Yes, there is a great deal of dry humor here as well as a fascinating view of the art of storytelling. With their lives on the line, mammoth scout Si-yu interjects at times to ask questions and make sure things are clarified to her satisfaction before sitting back in attentive listening as all listeners do during long nights as stories are retold. 

As Chih and the tigers – mainly the Queen but with some asides from her sisters – tell the story of the poor scholar on her way to take the imperial exams (in the terrifying sounding Hall of Ferocious Jade) when she comes across a fierce tiger who takes a fancy to her, the PsoV switch back and forth depending on who is talking. It’s easy to see how things get muddled and details deleted depending on how important things are to different sides. 

I had a feeling that cleric Chih would somehow manage to spin their tale out long enough for salvation to appear but as with the initial encounter with the three tigers, the rousing finale had me riveted. I do hope that there will be further tales of Chih – and hopefully Almost Brilliant plus more mammoths including young Piluk who is rightfully smug about her part in the episode. A-
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Chih and their companions are stuck at the top of the mountain, surrounded by hungry tigers. Mammoths will come to save them, but they will have to stay alive until then. In order to do so, Chih will have to unravel the mystery of the tiger and her scholar lover, and how truth can survive.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is a follow up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune, which I hadn't read. This is a standalone novel in that same world, so I suppose that readers of the first novel are already familiar with the location Chih is in when the book opens.  For the rest of us, we're given the description of the snowy, mountainous region as Chih collects stories and details about the Singing Hills region. This is what gives the series its name as the Singing Hills Cycle. Reviews of the first novel explain that it was framed as a story that the Empress' handmaiden tells the cleric, so we don't miss anything by starting the series here. I suspect at some point when my TBR pile is less overwhelming, I'm going to track down the first volume to read.

Chih, the gender-neutral cleric, thinks fast when approached by tigers. In this world, heavily based on East Asian mythology (there are Chinese and Vietnamese names mentioned, so it likely takes place somewhere between those two countries), tigers are like other spiritual animals in that they have a human form as well as their animal form. Chih bargains with the tigers, as one of their collected stories is the marriage of Ho Thi Thao, which piques their interest. We have tales back and forth in addition to Ho Thi Thao, as the tigers interrupt Chih, and their companion Si-yu also has additions. This book, short as it is, nevertheless layers meaning and mythology in each conversation, drawing you into its universe as you progress through the story.

Storytelling is a way of linking cultures and people as well as passing the time. Here, Chih uses the story as a way to delay potential slaughter, soothe the tigers, and learn about their people as much as they can correct the histories that they were taught. Even the spirits follow the rules of propriety, both in the story and with Chih and Si-yu, which allows the dialogue to take place and to have the different stories be revealed. This is a very short book, and I was disappointed that there wasn't more to read!
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Apologies for the delay with this review, the pandemic completely changed my schedule!

Nghi Vo's WHEN THE TIGER CAME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN, sequel to THE EMPRESS OF SALT AND FORTUNE, delivers on every possible level. The cleric Chih is back from the last book, but their hoopoe neixin Almost Brilliant is not with them. They're way up north and getting a ride from a member of the mammoth corps when they are waylaid by a group of three tigers, and Chih falls back on their storytelling training to try and keep themself and their guide alive. 
The story held the prickly tension even as there were glimmers of hope and a constant threat of danger as the narrative braid settled into a comfortable storytelling pace. I'm newly impressed with Vo's skill at making the world feel real with every chapter; I often suddenly remembered that mammoths are in fact extinct and I can't go pet one. 
I loved being able to follow Chih on a new adventure, see them make decisions for themself, and see their passion for storytelling. (And I would be lying if I said I didn't really relate to Chih admitting to themself that they hitchhike more than walk.) The different versions of Dieu and Ho Thi Thao's story got me reading the whole book in one sitting and I got so invested in how it would end. 
I hope we get to see more of Chih's journeys (and Si-yu! As a travel maybe-more-than-friend!) and more of Vo's dazzling, intricate world. Both of Vo's books are precious treasures and I can't wait to read more.
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The was an excellent second addition to this short novella series. I absolutely adore Vo's style of writing and the beautiful way it infects your mind. I'll definitely never look at tigers the same way.
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An absolutely beautiful novella about truth, history, and love. Cleric Chih must tell the story of the tiger and her scholarly love to three tigers in an attempt to save their own life, and along the way learns that the story they were told is not the way history unfolded. This novella speaks to unlearning traditions and is a stunning example at what it means to bring history and the truth of it back to life.
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I daresay this installment is more lovely than the first, which is saying quite a lot. While it follows Chih, the same cleric from the first story, it's a story that stands on its own. I do think it helped to have some knowledge of the world though, as it was so easy for me to hop right back into it where in the first book it took me a second to get acclimated.

In this story, Chih finds themselves riding mammoths, and I was here for it. I mean, mammoths! Chih also is counting on the mammoths to eventually rescue their party from some tigers. Though tigers, in this case, are sentient and excellent conversationalists. They will, of course, still eat Chih and company, depending on how the storytelling pans out.

The story that was woven (and told in parts by each group) was lovely in itself, and I adored that we ultimately got to hear two sides of the same tale. And as with most stories, the versions were recalled quite differently. I loved the commentary on stories in general, and I loved the characters even more. I hope we get to spend more time in this lush, gorgeously written world.

Bottom Line: With a story that pulled me in even more strongly than its predecessor, I fell in love all over again with the incredibly developed characters and beautifully imagined world.
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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."

Such cover lust! It's so rich and luscious!
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I loved this story and its folkloric feel.  The tale is told from the point of view of Chih a cleric of the Singing Hills, a sect who travel collecting and verifying stories to add to their collection.  The stories are taken from any source be they commoner or royalty and as is so often the case one story of the same event can be very different from another.
Chih sets off with Si-yu (rider of a mammoth called Piluk) for a short venture to a local way station to gather more stories.  However once they arrive they find the way station keeper surrounded by three tigers and their lives become more complicated...
The tigers are royal spirit/shifters who can speak in either form and so Chih sets to telling a tale to avoid being eaten!  As luck would have it one story piques the tigers interest and so begins a tale (with corrections) of sapphic love between a tiger shifter Ho Thi Thao and scholar Dieu...
The story resonated with tales told by my mothers family and the tiger sisters are fabulous.  After I read this the first time I went back to read Empress of Salt and Fortune and was pleased to find Chih in that story too along with his neixin recording bird Almost Brilliant.  Almost Brilliant sits this story out but I am hopeful that future tales will involve them, please bring them on soon.
My thanks to Netgalley and Tor - all views are my own.
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In case you missed it – The Empress of Salt and Fortune is one of my favorite books of the year and I am utterly obsessed and in love with it. So I was so excited to read this companion novella and it did not disappoint!

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is, much like the first novella in the series, about storytelling. There are stories all the way down and this is very much about conflicting historical narratives and how we claim others' narratives and fit them into our own view of the world. It was absolutely gorgeous, with a really interesting F/F romance at the center. Oh and woolly mammoths!

Could not recommend this series more and I hope we get more novellas in it!
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Cleric Chih is back at it again with their storytelling. This time, they find themself trapped with Si-Yu and her mammoth by a trio of shape-shifting tigers. To stall for time until the mammoths arrive and to appease the tigers’ desire for the truth, Chih unravels the full story of Ho Thi Thao and her lover, a scholar named Dieu.

Vo has such a knack for weaving otherwise epic storylines into so tight a space. Big emotions thread throughout, and what I found particularly intricate was the compare and contrast of how the tigers knew this epic love story versus how it was passed down among the clerics and throughout folklore. There are so many layers to this world Vo built, and the detail work is simply astounding and completely mesmerizing.

What particularly resonated with me was the violent presentation of Ho Thi Thao’s heartbreak during one segment of the story. It’s great to see a femme act out on page, and the way the narrative jumps back to the frame story to talk through how each character would deal with that specific grief. It worked really well for me, and provides a bit of indulgence that can’t be afforded if the story had strictly been told from either Ho Thi Thao’s or Dieu’s point of view.

Another epic distilled to its finest parts, I really enjoyed this return to the Empire of Ahn and can’t wait to read more of Vo’s work.
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Self-defense storytelling is only a little younger than storytelling itself. Shahrazad is the most famous victor of such a contest, but Egil Skallagrimsson did it in Iceland’s famous Egil’s Saga, and there are fairy tales and legends from across the globe that feature getting creative with a narrative to save your neck. And it’s no surprise: a framing narrative that ups the stakes and glorifies both stories and their tellers? Of course it’s popular. But it’s not just self-justification. As we construct narratives to make sense of the world, it’s only natural to explore how stories take us right up to the brink of danger, and also how they keep us alive. 

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is a story about both the danger and the survival. Six people sit around a fire. Three are humans who want to live out the night; the other three are tigers, eager to fill their bellies. The fire between them is not enough. But the story between them might be.

This book is perfect for anyone whose favorite part of The Hobbit is “Riddles in the Dark.” It’s a verbal duel, here with sparring versions of the same story, a dangerous romance between a human and a tiger. Was Scholar Dieu a perfidious wife, or a vulnerable woman backed into a corner? Was tiger-woman Ho Thi Thao a bully or a lovesick bride? The tigers have one version, the humans another. Both are biased. Is there any truth to be had between the two? 

Both versions are compelling, and do an enormous amount of world-building without really seeming to try. Vo is really expert at avoiding the dreaded plot dump for magic and plot, and here she shows us that she’s also skilled at simultaneously creating and undermining her world’s history. The book is less about history than historiography. Who tells, who writes, who keeps and catalogs stories? Chih understands that their role as a chronicler is not to judge but to accept. Their experiences from The Empress of Salt and Fortune certainly taught them that even if their monkish training did not.

I should note that while there are callbacks to the first book, it’s not necessary to have read it beforehand. This novella is complete unto itself—which is a funny thing to say about a novella, but SFF does love its series.

Anyway, the stories within the story actually both have satisfying conclusions, an impressive feat, and one that provides the most satisfying ending to Chih’s framing story as well. Neither the humans nor the tigers can claim that their story is True with a capital T. They can only weigh their own version against the others’, and account for the power differential (or ignore it, as the case may be). But the only real conclusion is Chih’s final word: the written word, which both parties promise will survive the encounter.
We have always told stories to keep the tigers at bay. Vo’s addition to this specific impulse as well as to fantasy in general is most welcome, a refreshing and thoughtful examining of not just our impulse to tell stories but also how those stories both endure and evolve. She invites us to question what we’ve been told—but not stop telling. When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is about holding plurality in tension, about taking the time to really value a work instead of just devouring it.
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Nghi Vo knocked it out of the park with this one. I liked it even more than The Empress of Salt and Fortune! Vo's prose is lyrical and compelling. This is the kind of novella you devour in one sitting and flip right back to the beginning to savor it on a second read.
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Cleric Chih is back and this time accompanied by woolly mammoths and lesbian were-tigers! Much like <i>The Empress of Salt and Fortune</i>, <i>When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain</i> is a novel based around storytelling. In this instance it is a single story of a were-tiger and her human lover, told by both Cleric Chih them self and a trio of were-tigers whose conflicting oral traditions of the same tale result in clashes and corrections for the Singing Hills archive.
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I first heard about When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain from a Twitter post, which sold it as “ scholar/apex predator slow-burn sapphic courtship” and “the inherent homoeroticism of reading poetry out loud.” To be totally honest, if those two phrases sell you on the book, you may just want to go read it; it’s certainly worth the price of admission. 

A sequel to the also fantastic Empress of Salt and Fortune, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is a story about oral history and mythmaking. What gets lost in the retelling, both through time and also in the intended audience.
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