Into The Riverlands, a novella by Nghi Vo, impressed me a lot. This isn’t particularly surprising, given that Vo is one of the best new voices in fantasy and Riverlands is the third in a novella anthology that all have been fabulous. But the thing that really resonated with me about Riverlands, and The Singing Hills Cycle in general, is that in the evolving and exploding realm of novellas, this series feels like the gold standard of what to do with the space. I will dig into this more, but let’s talk about Into The Riverlands’ plot first.
The Singing Hills Cycle follows our wandering cleric protagonist, Chih of the Singing Hills, as they travel to the Riverlands to record tales of the notorious near-immortal martial artists who haunt the region. Much like the previous chapters of this series, this standalone story focuses on Chih going to a new location rich in myth and talking to locals to try and get to the bottom and record local legends. The Riverlands is essentially a floodplain of drunk martial artists beating the crap out of each other, and Chih is left to weave their way through flying fists and chairs to interview people who are in the middle of combat. It is a charming and funny tale that uses its short form to showcase some fabulous martial arts and make some powerful points before wrapping up and heading out.
We have written some about Martha Wells’ incredible Murderbot novellas (which we love), but represent a worrying trend in publishing. Novellas are a wonderful space to tell very targeted stories, but they are getting expensive, and doing a long-form story across five $15 novellas as opposed to one book can be frustrating, no matter how amazing the content is. Conversely, The Singing Hills feels like the perfect use of the medium even though the number of volumes is ballooning.
Each entry in this series focuses on and examines mythology, storytelling, history, and personal truths. Each novella has these foci and each one knocks it out of the park. But they also all have their own specialized themes, ideas, locales, and cultures that they explore to great effect—and the stories can be picked up, put down, and completed in any order and still completely work. In particular, as a dungeon master who has been running campaigns for Dungeons & Dragons for a while, I am just blown away by Vo’s ability to explore narrative, myth, worldbuilding, and storytelling in such a small space to such great effect.
I adore Into The Riverlands. This martial arts short adds new dimensions and richness to The Singing Hills Cycle, only increasing my desire to sell this series like a street corner crier. These stories are worth your time, will warm your heart, and will make you a better storyteller at the same time.
Rating: Into The Riverlands – 10/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.