Cover Image: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

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When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New silkpunk! While I really enjoyed the first of the Singing Hills Cycle books, I liked this one better.

Why? I just did, okay! lol

Seriously, it's all about the Tiger and the Scholar. The novella was written as a story within a story, but it focuses on the true kick of the core story. Beautifully written, evocative, and emotional, it first appears to be the "dangerous man tamed by the meek woman" trope, but it retains that real subtlety that tells a very different story for those willing to listen. :)

Very enjoyable.
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The second novella in The Singing Hills Cycle series. I can see a future in which all instalments following Almost Brilliant and Chih are compiled into a gorgeous, bound hardback anthology. When that day arrives, just take all my money Tor. This series is saturated with textured voices and the presence of storied power. These books read like a lyric poem being lovingly embraced by Vietnamese folk tales. Truly modern while maintaining a traditional dignity in their commitment to atmospheric development and sharp parable-like lessons. The enduring emotional pool you find yourself in upon closing the last sentence is unique to each person. Somehow, Vo approaches concepts of tradition, queerness, loss of a child, motherhood, companionship, and rebellion in a concise and poignant way. The movement of seasons and the women who are silent but win the war from behind the story is where Vo draws her power. These novellas remind me of the classical Decameron and Canterbury Tales in which travellers tell stories to one another in order to both distract from their reality and remember as persons connected in time.

In the first novella, The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Chih is accompanied by her hoopoe (avian) friend Almost Brillaint as they listen to the stories of the Empress In-yo from her former maid named Rabbit. In this second novella, Chih is accompanied by Si-yu and her mammoth friend Piluk. They were so fun that I wasn’t as sore as I thought I would be from not having Almost Brilliant in this tale.

Chih is a cleric of the Singing Hills whose purpose is to amass history through cataloguing artifacts, places, and stories into one place so that as time moves, nothing is forgotten and no one disappears from memory. Here, Chih and their companions are stopped when travelling over a mountain pass by three talkative tigers. The tigers agree to wait to eat them by listening to Chih tell the love story of Scholar Dieu and the tiger Ho Thi Thao. Exploring the ease with which the truth may be changed and ultimately become myth, Vo masterfully crafts complexity in so few pages. There exists great weight to every story as both a truth and perspective. It is no small feat to perform the art of story-telling the way Nghi Vo does. 

Quiet, pensive, and urgent.
Chih’s little footprints are all over my heart.
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This was everything I hoped for and more after loving the first book in the series. Nghi Vo is just a matter story teller- the characters are surprisingly rich for such a spare story. The story is exactly as long as it needs to be. The subtle yet commanding way she is able shifts your perspective is perfection. How she explores deeper themes in ways that feel completely natural to the story! It's all just *chef kiss*
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The adventures of non-binary, humble but inquisitive cleric Chih continue to amaze and enthrall with perfectly crafted prose and beautiful characterization in this standalone sequel to the equally excellent The Empress of Salt and Fortune.

When last we met Chih, the travelling storytelling cleric, they happened upon a lonely old woman who really needed to have her story heard and understood, if for nothing else than at least for closure, and what a story she had to tell - one of imperial politics, exile, friendship, love and loyalty. It was a beautiful little novella, quite quiet, poetic and contemplative. The Singing Hills Cycle's second installment, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, puts Chih in a far more volatile position, when they are forced to tell another person's story - essentially a love story between a scholar and her tiger mistress - if they are to have any hope of staying alive... but perhaps it is not their story to tell. Maybe they, as a human, can't fully grasp the nature of a narrative that seems very much a tiger's tale. Or maybe the truth lies somewhere in between the human perspective and the tiger's. Truth is subjective from culture to culture, after all. It's not necessarily about right and wrong, it's about perspective (and, more often than not, about privilege in interpretation).

This is a theme that truly spoke to me - the importance of having own voices in storytelling as well as in the recording of history. A tiger, for example, won't necessarily agree with how a human describes a tiger's motivations. And vice versa. This is also why it's so important that we all learn to listen to each other. Why we need to uplift the voices that aren't always heard and give them a platform. Why we can't necessarily take over other cultures' narratives and let our voices, tinted by a different experience of life entirely, speak on history that is not our own - history that we can never fully grasp, as we haven't lived it.

Here is where I want to take the opportunity to give the publisher some extra love. Tor clearly makes an effort to platform traditionally marginalised voices, thereby giving opportunities to some of the most interesting authors currently in fiction, for which they have earned my undying love and respect. Thank you, Tor.

My favourite parts of this novella were the ones told from the tiger's point of view, because that perspective was obviously more foreign to me, and therefore inherently more intriguing. But the concept as a whole, of two individuals telling the same story but from slightly different angles, is brilliant and works so incredibly well with the tone of the story... everything about this novella was fascinating to me. There are many, many layers here for anyone who likes to analyse what they read.

The love story between the scholar Dieu and the tigress - sometimes in human form - Ho Thi Thao was gorgeously written. Their story is touching, very romantic and yet grim, frequently unsettling and perhaps a bit dubious with its power dynamic (after all, one partner has fangs and claws and could swallow a human whole, while the other has merely her wits to depend upon). It's both poetic and spicy. I was swept away by it. I would honestly love to read a full-length novel of these two individuals on the road together, trying to reconcile their differences, learning how to live with and love each other with no holds barred.

As with its predecessor, this novella feels like it could easily be part of some ancient Asian fable, only recently unearthed and edited to fit more modern sensibilities. By which I mean to say, all of the queer? Yes. Indeed, all of the queer.

The concept of having a wandering storyteller as a main character is brilliant, because there is no telling where they might go next, what people or creatures they will meet, if their adventures will somehow end up being connected in some way, or where their journey will ultimately end. 

Now, seriously... when can I read the next part? More, please, Nghi Vo. Give me more.
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Nghi Vo continues to amaze in this stunning sequl/companion novel to Empress of Salt and Fortune. In this novella we follow Chih again (who is my favourite non-binary cleric ever - i love them so much uwu) who is travelling in the north and a scout from the mammoth clan called Si-Yu is guiding them with her mammoth Piluk (who is so cute!!!) and as they are travelling up a mountain to a way station when they are waylaid by 3 tigers.

The tigers are persuaded to hold off on killing Chih and Si-Yu by listening to Chih tell the story of the scholar Dieu and the tiger Ho Thi Thao - which is told in a similar way to the first book (two timelines). Their story was such a beautiful story and had such an interesting dynamic, I always love a good angsty sapphic romance. Plus the focus on sharing food as a way of showing love was one of my favourite bits and I felt that in my soul.

I cannot get over how stunning Nghi Vo's writing is. It is lush and evocative, but also so comforting and feels like a warm hug while you are reading. Honestly even though this book was about tigers and featured some slightly gory scenes it was so anxiety reliveing and comforting and I think that is a testament to the writing style. 

The elements of folklore and mytholgy woven in were so well crafted and you felt like you were there in the mountains with Chih listening to them telling the story.

I cannot praise this novella enough, I think I might even have enjoyed it a little bit more than Empress of Salt and Fortune - I loved the setting as well as the romance and the tension of whether chih and si-yu would be eaten by the tigers, this installment just felt slightly higher stakes.
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I loved this book. It  built beautifully on the world established in  book one  but also delivered something  entirely  new and unique.  It read like a magical fable and I enjoyed every minute of it.
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This is the second novella I have read by Nghi Vo after The Empress of Salt and Fortune.  It’s another tale of the cleric Chih’s travels.  They are riding to a waystation with their guide when ambushed by tigers.  Then the tigers start talking. Like the first novella it’s very prettily written.  Tor has been publishing some really excellent novellas and this is another hit in their catalog.
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What a phenomenal follow-up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune!

Much like its predecessor, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is told half in frame, half out—and it is nothing short of brilliant. Chih is, as always, a wonderful main character who provides a strong anchor point to the folklore-esque events going on around them. I also love how this novella dives into ideas of history vs. myth, and how stories change depending on the teller. The framed story of Hi Thi Thao (a tiger!) and the Scholar Dieu was both tense and romantic, and it takes an expert writer to manage that!

Overall, the prose was beautiful and compelling as ever, exactly what I've come to expect from this author. Nghi Vo is easily one of my favorite storytellers right now, and I can't wait to read what she writes next.
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What a lush, beautiful story!
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is the next standalone novella set in The Singing Hills Cycle. I haven't read The Empress of Salt and Fortune yet but after this, be sure that I'll be picking it up as soon as possible.
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is mainly written in a story within a story format, which I wasn't expecting, but loved nevertheless. What I loved most, apart from the amazing setting, and cute (yes, I do mean cute) magical creatures is how different sexualities are normalised. We have a non-binary MC, f-f relationships and bodies of all shape and size described in a very body positive way. We need more of this in all our books especially when most glorify bodies of a certain type.
It's a short book, and very fast-paced and so I went through this in a few hours. Definitely recommended!
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A absolutely fantastic and magical story! The plot is about a cleric who becomes stranded in a mountain by three tigers who will allow them to live until they finish recounting a history they wish to correct. The magical element of the story is amazing and I was absolutely engrossed in the history that the cleric was recounting. A beautiful and almost lyrical element to the story. I was so engrossed and I would honestly recommend this for anyone who enjoys folktales, fairytales, and anything magical. The storytelling was magnificent and I just can’t get over this book!

*Thank you Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for sending me an arc in exchange for an honest review
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A poetic fairy tale within a fairytale wondrously told through mountains, mammoths and malevolent tigers.
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Thank you to Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
This book was beautiful. I should have expected it though, I’m always awed by Vo’s work. I thought it was funny and the words were almost lyrical at times, and the characters, as always, were fascinating beyond belief. My only wish is that it was longer. I didn’t love this one QUITE as much as I loved Empress of Salt and Fortune, but I did love it quite a bit. The tigers especially were very interesting to me, and I loved hearing their side of the story vs Chih’s. Over all, I’m excited to read more stories in this universe, and as always, I can only wish for them to be longer.
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I guess you know a story is good when, after finishing it, you're left with a vague, restless discontent with anything that isn't that story.

The second novella in the Singing Hills Cycle, When The Tiger Came Down From The Mountain is beautiful and funny and (like the first one) surprisingly immersive for a story within a story. Just perfect in every way.
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When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain was a delightful, beautiful read. The prose was enchanting and I hung onto Vo’s every word until the very last page. Suffice to say, I loved this very much.

The novella follows Cleric Chih on another one of their adventures to document more stories. Until they, along with their companions, Si-yu and Piluk stumble across a band of tigers. To ensure their safety, a night of storytelling commences. 

As with The Empress of Salt and Fortune, storytelling was the focal point of the novella. This time, the story explored how different interpretations can help shape stories to fit someone’s history and narrative. Both Chih’s and the tigers’ versions of Scholar Dieu and Ho Thi Thao differentiated a lot from each other but highlighted how the truth varies from culture to culture.

I was a bit sad that Almost Brilliant was absent in this novella, but fret not, Si-yu and her sweet mammoth Piluk made excellent traveling companions for Chih. Both were sassy and a joy to read about. I hope to see more of them in any future installments.

I hope Nghi Vo keeps writing more The Singing Hills novellas because I can’t get enough of the beautiful prose and imagery. Overall, I highly recommend!
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Vo has a phenomenal talent for bringing context and power to oral history keeping and its value. Like even though this narrative format is printed the emphasis is "a story passed down can alter history". It emphasises the power of who gets to share that story and that privilege alters narrative language, representation, structure and even how love is shaped and reimagined by those who project context. In this case the view of the same story in the lens of tigers versus humans. But it's so relevant because the tigers get to share their story with Chih. And Chih shares what he knows based on what has been taught. Such a way to comment on how narratives have been altered by the voices hailed and honored versus the voices that are not. Colonialization and white supremacy has swallowed and altered history and fed and projected narratives. So this story is just such a fantastic analysis of this in my mind. It has that decolonial element I love to see, to participate with. I love how Vo opened the story in this way. To recapture a story. And in it honoring to the power of oral story keeping. I dunno imma fan. I stan for life. All this in a quick moving, suspenseful, compacted love story that places story and sharing stories as an impactful and pivotal part of human and creature interaction. Loved it.
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The best news I ever got was that The Empress of Salt and Fortune was getting a sequel. That book was probably in my top books read in 2019 list (I’m not going to admit to how long that list would have been), so obviously I was going to want (urgently) to read it. And, in all honesty, I think this might have been better than book one.

We’re back following Chih, but later on their journey, as they cross mountains with their guide (and her mammoth). But they come across a band of tigers, who want to eat them, and the only thing that might hold them off is Chih telling the story of Dieu (a human) and Ho Thi Thao (a tiger).

As with the first novella, the story within a story format is what makes the book so engaging. Not much happens in the present, as might be expected in a novella, but the framing, that Chih is telling a story to listeners (who are correcting them as they go along) allows for it to be a lot more expansive. While we are wondering whether Chih and Si-yu will escape the tigers alive, we are also experiencing Dieu and Ho Thi Thao falling in love. And the juxtaposition of the humans’ version of the story and the tigers’ version makes it even better.

Not to mention the tigers themselves, although they want to eat our main characters, are so fun. The way they bicker among themselves is truly a sibling thing and I loved it so much. Almost as much as I loved the romance between Dieu and Ho Thi Thao. I mean. Reciting poetry to one another? Beautiful.

I read this novella in one sitting, not wanting to put it down for even a second. It was over all too soon, in my opinion, and now all I want to know is how best to bribe Nghi Vo into making this an ongoing series of Chih’s adventures.
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I'm not usually a fan of novellas, but I'm enjoying the shorter connected stories and hope the author continues in this word.
The job of the cleric is interesting and I enjoy the world building as constructed through different people's stories as they travel. In this story, the talking, shapeshifting tigers was a bit more fantasy than I usually prefer, but the story was short and interesting.
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The Empress of Salt and Fortune is still one of my favorite books of the year, so I had high hopes for this novella and I was not let down. Despite its size, this little novella packs a punch, feeling more like a full length novel by the end. I loved the further dive into the world and the way we got to know the main character a bit more. Nghi Vo will never not amaze me with her writing.
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This is a follow-up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune, following the cleric Chih on another journey to discover and record stories. I'm a little sad that the book doesn't contain Almost Brilliant, but in every other way I liked it even more than the first book. I think that despite giving the first book a pretty high rating, it didn't wholly stick with me; this one, I think, will. Perhaps it's partly the sense that Chih is not only learning the story, is not just a vessel for the reader to experience it, but is in a story themselves with a beginning and an ending and tension in the middle. That sense was missing from the first book, for me, for all that it was cleverly done.

It's not that this one was more surprising for me -- I mentioned with the first book that I knew where we were going before we got there -- but that the frame story kind of supported it better, I suppose. The predictability in both cases is a good thing; it's like seeing the end result of a puzzle, and then all the intermediate stages as you work towards it; that doesn't "spoil" getting to the end!

I'm definitely on board for more of Chih and their travels.
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I have no words for how much I love this book. Nghi Vo weaves a beautiful and fully realized world in so short a space. I could read endless tales of Chih’s travels. As a bookseller, The Empress of Salt and Fortune is one of my very favorite books to hand sell - I cannot wait to put this into fellow book lover’s hands. This book was a treat to devour and I will certainly read it again and again.
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