Book Review: “When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain” by Nghi Vo

Blurb & Info

(via goodreads)

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.

Published: December 8, 2020

Publisher: Tor

Pages: 127

Series: Singing Hills Cycle #2

I read this book in a buddy read with Sarah @ Suits of Stories!


I flew through this book in a day! After a month of slogging through exclusively adult romance (which I have discovered is not my favorite genre) I had forgotten what it felt like to just fly through a book because I am so desperate to know what happens next. I generally take notes in my journal as I read, but a little after the halfway mark I could no longer bear to tear myself away from this novella long enough to write down my thoughts.

First of all, though this book is No. 2 in The Singing Hills Cycle, it can definitely be read as a standalone. I certainly encourage you to read the prequel, The Empress of Salt and Fortune, which I rated 5/5 stars, but it’s not required.

Secondly, the world that Vo builds in this book, it’s just… it’s so grand and immersive, and there are so many tiny details that I love picking up and storing away like a squirrel does with his favorite nuts. When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is less than 150 pages, but it still manages to pack in so much world-building without feeling as though the whole thing is a massive exposition dump. The Empire of Anh is a storied place, expansive and full of history, and I was as ravenous as a starving tiger for every bit of information.

The magic in this world is a soft system, in the sense that (unlike a hard magic system) it doesn’t have definite rules and limitations. Anything can happen. I never knew what to expect, and neither does Chih, our protagonist. For me, this added to the book’s whimsy and fairy-tale quality. Some parts of the magic system are as beautiful as they are strange, like the sparkling “babyghosts” that glow sweetly in the night before being eaten by the stars, while others are dangerous, like the trio of tigresses who have cornered the cleric Chih and their companion, Si-yu the mammoth scout.

The story of the legendary tiger, Ho Thi Thao, and her scholar lover, Dieu, is definitely even more of a (sapphic!) fairy tale than the sections with Chih, Si-yu, and the tigresses. It’s beautiful, and I love how the tigresses’ version of the story intersects and overlaps with the human version that Chih has been taught. There is some really good discussion in this novella of who owns a story? Is it the storyteller, or those depicted in the story? What does it mean to be respectful of a story’s subject matter? And what is the difference between fairy-tale and history, if there even is a difference?

Lastly, the representation in this book was a joy. Chih is very casually nonbinary, and nobody makes an issue of this or even questions it. Ho Thi Thao and Dieu are, of course, a legendary wlw couple, but Si-yu brings up a past girlfriend and nobody bats an eye.

My only qualms with this book is that the ending felt rushed, and that Dieu is described as moderately ugly in the human version of the story, but the tiger-version of the tale constantly praises her beauty. This discrepancy is never brought up or questioned, and it’s never explained why a tiger might find a human exceedingly beautiful where other humans would see nothing desirable.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of 5

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain” by Nghi Vo

Add yours

  1. This is such a great review – you managed to put into words what I couldn’t and I completely agree with you about the ending feeling rushed! I’m so glad you enjoyed the novella all in all!


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