Mammoths at the Gates
Nghi Vo. Tordotcom, $19.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-250-85143-7
Hugo Award winner Vo’s lovely standalone fourth Singing Hills Cycle fantasy (after Into the Riverlands) is the most personal adventure yet for travelling Cleric Chih. It begins with them returning to the Singing Hills abbey, their childhood home and a sacred temple to stories and memory, full of rumors, ghosts, and magical neixin, or memory spirits who never forget. Chih is shocked to discover the abbey’s usually bustling halls are nearly deserted, and that their mentor, Cleric Thien, is dead and interred in the manner of all respected clerics. This becomes a problem when two mammoth-riding northern soldiers charge the gates of the abbey, claiming Cleric Thien as their grandfather and demanding the release of his remains. Now Chih must navigate conflict with the riders and their own grief in a home that will never again be what they remember. The worldbuilding isn’t the focus, but Vo’s mythologically infused alternate Southeast Asia draws readers in just enough to keep their attention and elevate her characters as they move through the plot, which gets off to a slow start but picks up the pace in later chapters. This timeless story of grief and growth is sure to resonate. (Sept.)
Correction: An earlier version of this review misspelled a character’s name and misidentified the setting.
Reviewed on: 05/30/2023