ARC Review: WHEN THE TIGER CAME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN (The Singing Hills Cycle #2) by Nghi Vo (2020)

Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: December 2020
Buy Links: Bookshop | Libro.fm | Unabridged Books

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Read a NetGalley eARC

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.

Review: EMPRESS OF SALT AND FORTUNE by Nghi Vo (2020)

Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Physical copy

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Cleric Chih visits a lonely former handmaiden to the Empress of Salt of Fortune once her estate opens up to visit. The story that unfolds is epic in scope as a marriage of alliance turns into exile turns into conquest. But the presentation is so intimate and quiet, especially as chapters start with descriptions of objects found throughout the estate and Rabbit’s focus is primarily on her relationship with In-yo and the other servants who were at court alongside her.

There was a deep sense of melancholy, not so much regret, threaded throughout the elegant prose. But not so much regret, which I found fascinating. Rabbit’s retelling is filled with making sure she spoke her truth, but also ensuring that the listener, Chih and by extension, the reader, internalizes this fable-like history. The court intrigue is top-notch, but it serves as a background to the intensely relationship-driven narrative. The devotion Rabbit felt towards In-yo dripped off the page and it was compelling in a way that wasn’t entirely tragic. The strength of that relationship kept me wanting to know how the story ends. I really liked how Vo directed the storytelling in a way that assumes the reader knows the story of this empire already as told by history books in that world. The gentle but secure guidance made it obvious, but wow, did that ending land.

Epic, but pensive in a deeply personal way, a must-read for people looking for quieter fantasy novels.

Review: BURN THE DARK (Malus Domestica #1) by S.A. Hunt (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2020
Source: My own physical copy

Content warning for gore, violence, vomiting, mental illness, dead parents, blood

Robin Martine is a YouTuber who films her literal witch hunts. Her latest trip takes her home to confront the witches who brought about her mother’s death.

This story doesn’t only center Robin. The Parkins family of Wayne and Leon move into Robin’s family home and the haunts start there. Wayne just started a new school, so on top of the normal being the new kid in a place anxieties, there’s also a demon to contend with. This child was so realistically written—smart and tenacious enough to get himself out of a bind, but still definitely needing the support of the adults around him. The entire cast has such a fantastic dynamic, especially because even though Robin has so much firsthand knowledge, she can’t survive on her own and this sense of found family and community permeates from start to finish.

The pacing in this book is so good. Hunt has a real grasp of when information is necessary and trusts the reader to keep all the threads in their heads. The witches and the hunts are scary and Hunt does so many interesting things with the way the words look on the page. I definitely do not want to live in a town that’s haunted by a dryad, is all I’m saying.

A fun, spooky, witch-hunting time for all of those wanting to get Halloween started early.