The Singing Hills Cycle

by Nghi Vo

The Empress of Salt and Fortune

book cover

A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully.

Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.

At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

book cover

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.

Into the Riverlands

book cover

Wandering cleric Chih of the Singing Hills travels to the riverlands to record tales of the notorious near-immortal martial artists who haunt the region. On the road to Betony Docks, they fall in with a pair of young women far from home, and an older couple who are more than they seem. As Chih runs headlong into an ancient feud, they find themselves far more entangled in the history of the riverlands than they ever expected to be.

Accompanied by Almost Brilliant, a talking bird with an indelible memory, Chih confronts old legends and new dangers alike as they learn that every story—beautiful, ugly, kind, or cruel—bears more than one face.

Mammoths at the Gate

book cover

The Hugo and Crawford Award-Winning Series!

The wandering Cleric Chih returns home to the Singing Hills Abbey for the first time in almost three years, to be met with both joy and sorrow. Their mentor, Cleric Thien, has died, and rests among the archivists and storytellers of the storied abbey. But not everyone is prepared to leave them to their rest.

Because Cleric Thien was once the patriarch of Coh clan of Northern Bell Pass–and now their granddaughters have arrived on the backs of royal mammoths, demanding their grandfather’s body for burial. Chih must somehow balance honoring their mentor’s chosen life while keeping the sisters from the north from storming the gates and destroying the history the clerics have worked so hard to preserve.

But as Chih and their neixin Almost Brilliant navigate the looming crisis, Myriad Virtues, Cleric Thien’s own beloved hoopoe companion, grieves her loss as only a being with perfect memory can, and her sorrow may be more powerful than anyone could anticipate. . .

The novellas of The Singing Hills Cycle are linked by the cleric Chih, but may be read in any order, with each story serving as an entrypoint.

The Brides of High Hill

The Hugo Award-Winning Series returns with its newest standalone entry: a gothic mystery involving a crumbling estate, a mysterious bride, and an extremely murderous teapot.

The Cleric Chih accompanies a beautiful young bride to her wedding to an aging lord at a crumbling estate situated at the crossroads of dead empires. But they’re forgetting things they ought to remember, and the lord’s mad young son wanders the grounds at night like a hanged ghost.

The Singing Hills Cycle has been shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award, the Locus Award, the Ignyte Award, and has won the Hugo Award and the Crawford Award.

“A remarkable accomplishment of storytelling.”―NPR on The Empress of Salt and Fortune

“Nghi Vo is one of the most original writers we have today.”―Taylor Jenkins Reid on Siren Queen

My Take

I read these in order, though it isn’t a series that must be read in order. The tales are linked by Cleric Chih and there are cross mentions. I’ve still reviewed the set.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune was perhaps the oddest story — and the most memorable — oblique and with most of the action behind the scenes and between the lines. I want to reread it now that I know the end. This was my favorite though all of them are good. When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain and Into the Riverlands are more traditional adventure tales. Mammoths at the Gates is more deeply personal and emotional.

I find the more books I read about love, romance, and sex that is not straight heterosexual the more I believe that all interpersonal relationships are akin. They are more alike than they are different and there is a range of feelings not a false dichotomy of platonic/sexual. And love does not require lust and vice versa.

I’ve preordered The Brides of High Hill, which is due out in a few weeks. I think before I read that I’ll reread The Empress of Salt and Fortune. I’m happy I have more Nghi Vo to dig into. And I really like this cover art.