Monday, June 5, 2023

Into the Riverlands

Nghi Vo
Completed 6/4/2023, Reviewed 6/4/2023
4 stars

The third novella in the Singing Hills series.  I loved it as much as the second.  With each installment, I get a little more info that I missed in the first.  In this case, I finally figured out that the talking bird that was in the first book but absent in the second book because she was waiting for a clutch to hatch, is actually a special creature that has an indelible memory.  The bird, a neixin named Almost Brilliant, accompanies the cleric Chih to help remember the stories they hear.  This book didn’t have a single story being told within the story.  Rather there were several stories, one of Chih experiences first hand.  This book is the last book nominated for a 2023 Lambda Literary Award for Speculative Fiction.  The winner is going to be announced the weekend after this review is published.

Chih and Almost Brilliant make their way into the Riverlands to gather stories about the near-immortal superhero-like martial artists who battled the group of powerful bandits called the Hollow Hand.  At an inn, the two meet two young women named Wei Jintai and Mac Sang. Jintai helps stop a muscle-bound raging miner who tries to rough up the waitress and Chih.  Then they meet a straight couple, Lao Bingyi and her husband Mac Khanh.  They end up traveling together to Betony Docks deep in the Riverlands.  And yes, Khanh tries to figure out if he and Sang are related.  The stories featured within this story deal with women considered “ugly” but end up being unsung heroes.  One such ugly woman goes on to fight the evil Hollow Hand into extermination.  Back in the main story, Chih and their companions come across a resurgence of the Hollow Hand and some of our group are a lot more than they seem.

This book was a bit of a deviation from the first two.  Chih plays a much larger role than just storyteller and story-gatherer.  The non-binary cleric does not fight, but has more interaction with the two couples on their journey, giving us a better sense of who they are.  I really liked Chih, whether they were brave or terrified.  They are basically a gentle soul who does their best with each situation at hand.  I also liked Sang, the young woman who wants to tell ugly woman stories to counteract all the beautiful damsel stories that dominate the culture.  Jintai and Bingyi were also great as the kick-ass women who may or may not be the martial arts masters of legend.  

Once again, the prose is just lovely.  The writing is just descriptive enough to make you feel immersed in the travels of the companions.  And the stories within the story help keep the book going while waiting for the main plot’s action to begin.  The book is definitely more action packed than the first two.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  I have a feeling this one is going to win the Lammy since the first two books, The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came down the Mountain, were overlooked and this series has a huge following.  However, I’m often shocked at what the Lammy judges pick, so who’s to say.  While I have my favorite of the five nominees, I would be happy if this book won.  And oh yeah, it turns out there’s a fourth book in this series.  Guess I’ll have to read that one too.

No comments:

Post a Comment