When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain
by Nghi Vo
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.
Check out my review of The Empress of Salt and Fortune!
If The Empress of Salt and Fortune is about the stories that could be forgotten, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is about the stories that are told wrong.
When the cleric Chih and their companions – including an adorable mammoth – find themselves at the mercy of three tigers on their journey through the mountains, their talent for telling, and listening to, stories could be what helps all of them last the night without being eaten. They discover themself and the tigers have two different versions of the same story about Ho Thi Thao, another tiger, and Dieu, the scholar she loved.
I love Chih and I hope Vo continues to write about them and the stories they collect. Something about their nature, about how understanding and pleasant they are, really reminds me of Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender. In fact I’d love to see an animated series about Chih’s adventures – perhaps done by Studio Ghibli, if possible – because the world Vo brings to life in these novellas is so lush and tangible, and I can imagine the stories themselves being animated so beautifully.
Essentially, if you’re a fan of Avatar, I think you’d love these novellas, too. Not because the stories themselves are similar, but because there’s a similar vibe to them of someone wise beyond their years travelling the country, meeting various locals and helping to solve their problems—or at least outlive their problems.
Because Chih’s role as a cleric is to collect stories, both When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain and its predecessor are stories within stories, but in this latest instalment in the series we have two conflicting stories within stories, with Chih telling the version they’ve been told and the tigers then responding with their own version. It’s the nature of old stories to have different versions – we see it throughout our own history, with many legends, myths and fairy tales having different routes to differing endings – but When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain focuses on listening to the versions of stories that come from the same cultures that the stories do.
The tigers would rather Chih not tell Ho Thi Thao’s story at all than tell it wrong, and in listening to their version of the tale Chih and their companions are able to pick up on cultural differences that have been misconstrued through the years. It’s a wonderful commentary on the nature of stories, and asks us to re-examine some of our own antagonists.
Vo continues to be such a compelling voice in the realm of SFF, and I can’t wait to read more of her work in future!