Mini Reviews: The Singing Hills Cycle by Nghi Vo // Stunning Novellas that Contain Stories Within Stories

Novellas are so much fun to read.

As much as I love reading longer books so I can really connect with the story and characters, sometimes I just want to pick up something quick that I can finish in a short amount of time yet still be able to enjoy! There’s just something so special about losing yourself in a magical story for a hundred pages, which is why I love novellas.

So today, I’m here to review The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When The Tiger Came Down the Mountain: two novellas that I recently read and enjoyed! 

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The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle, #1)

✧ Publisher: Tor.com
Date Published: March 24, 2020
Genre: Adult Fantasy

With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.

A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.

Representation: nonbinary mc, wlw scs, all Asian cast and Asian-inspired setting

Click here for Trigger Warnings. (From Book Trigger Warnings)animal death, death of loved ones, forced sterilization, grief

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My Review

The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a powerful fantasy novella that slowly unfolds, leaving you breathless by the end. It is narrated from the perspective of the nonbinary cleric Chih, who learns the story of the Empress In-Yo as told by her handmaiden, Rabbit. The thing that immediately hooked me when I started this novella was Nghi Vo’s simplistic yet powerful and immersing prose. The only way I can think of describing it is that it reads like a fairy tale, which is something I loved!!

Honestly, this entire novella is like a quiet fairy tale that is given to you in shards and pieces, causing you to eagerly follow along as you see more of the story unfold along with Chih. I finished it in one sitting and held my breath as details unraveled and spun together to weave the full picture. And throughout the story, I thought that the worldbuilding, characters and themes were fleshed out really well, which is remarkable for a novella so short.

“You will never remember the great if you do not remember the small.”

My only qualms were that I wish this was little longer, so that we could spend more time in the world and get to know the story of In-Yo more. However, I understand that this is a novella, not a full-length novel, and I think that the author purposefully left the ending this way to add to the magical fairy-tale-like feeling I got from this novella. Also, some parts truly confused me, but I think that’s more due to the fact that I was reading this late at night and finished it in a single setting, because The Empress of Salt and Fortune is the kind of story that you learn more from if you reread: I want to pick it up again it soon so I can enjoy the hidden themes and details in its pages even more. 

“On a drunken evening, many years on, In-Yo would say that the war was won by silenced and nameless women, and it would be hard to argue with her.”

Overall, I would recommend this novella to anyone looking for a quiet, feminist fantasy that will envelop you in its story and leave you still thinking about it days afterwards. This is a very powerful debut, and I’m so glad that there is a sequel to this story, because the world Nghi Vo has crafted is one that you will not want to forget. 

“Angry women raise daughters fierce enough to fight wolves.”

★★★★☆// 4 stars

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When The Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain (The Singing Hills Cycle, #2)

✧ Publisher: Tor.com
Date Published: December 8, 2020
Genre: Adult Fantasy

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 this mesmerizing, lush standalone follow-up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune

Representation: nonbinary mc, wlw scs, all Asian cast and Asian-inspired setting

Click here for Trigger Warnings.fire, poison, gore, murder, death

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My Review

I sped through this  sequel in a single sitting just as I had read the first novella, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So many of the things that I loved about The Empress of Salt and Fortune, such as the gorgeous prose, hidden layers, and well-written characters were fully present—if not done even better—in this installment of the series. This sequel follows Chih again as they are captured by a band of hungry tigers while crossing a mountain, and must spin a story in the hope that the tigers will let them go.

The first thing I noticed upon starting was how happy I was to be reading from Chih’s perspective again; their personality was fleshed out so much more in this sequel and I really enjoyed reading about them. The dialogue between the tigers, Chih, and their guide Si-yu, was so fun and witty as well, and I found myself smiling a few times throughout the story. So while I really enjoyed the present tense of the storyline, I found myself also adoring the story that Chih—along with the tigers—told: the story of the achingly beautiful sapphic romance between the tiger Ho Thi Thao and the scholar Dieu. 

“I am yours, and so I will be your light and your laughter. I am yours, so open your eyes to look at me, and open your mouth so that I may kiss it. I am yours, I am yours, and nevermore will I leave.”

In The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Chih was the one listening to Rabbit’s story, but in this sequel, Chih told the story with the tigers as they interjected during different parts to explain how their version of what happened was different. In this way, it was very intriguing to see the theme of how stories are reshaped and molded differently as they are passed on among different cultures throughout the years. And, of course, Nghi Vo’s gorgeous prose made it even better. Just like I said in my review of the first book, her prose adds such a perfectly magical fairy-tale like feeling to this series, which increased my enjoyment tenfold.
 
The only reason I didn’t rate this higher than 4 stars was, again, the length—I’m someone who tends to enjoy longer stories better because they have more of an impact on me. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this series: make sure to read it for the amazing worldbuilding, powerful themes, and beautiful stories upon stories hidden in its folds. 
 

★★★★☆// 4 stars

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have you read this series? what are your favorite novellas? what’s a book you want to reread soon?

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9 thoughts on “Mini Reviews: The Singing Hills Cycle by Nghi Vo // Stunning Novellas that Contain Stories Within Stories”

  1. I’m the same as Tasya. Only read the first review because I have yet to read the second novella but!! I totally agree with your feelings. Also that book made me so emotional by the end of it all. 😭

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