Mammoth at the Gates, a Singing Hills novella by Nghi Vo, continues Vo’s tradition of absolutely killing it. Considering this is the fourth entry in my favorite novella series, no one should be surprised at this point. Vo has once again paved the way and led by example on what a novella series should look like. These stories are self-contained vessels of polished themes with a powerful connecting thread that links them all together but doesn’t make them reliant on one another. Pretty soon my reviews for these stories are simply going to be “Vo did it again.”
The Singing Hills Cycle follows our wandering cleric protagonist, Chih of the Singing Hills, as they travel the world collecting myths, legends, stories, and rumors. Their companion is a powerful sentient bird who has a flawless memory and works as a living repository for stories. Or rather that’s who normally would accompany Chih, but in this chapter, we find Chih without their wonderful bird friend. After a short period of separation, Chih decides to take a trip home to the Singing Hills home base to pick up their bird companion and see how things are going. Upon arriving home they discover that things are not going well. The aerie/monastery is mostly vacated except for a skeleton crew and there are literal, not metaphorical, mammoths outside the gate threatening to break in. Chih finds themselves in a surprisingly personal tale as they must navigate some interesting times in their home and find out what is happening.
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 this instance, we get a peek into the inner workings of Chih’s profession and their history, a riveting tale that has the added benefit of enriching all of the previous novellas. The themes this time were powerful and revolved around ideas of shared history, perspective, personal detachment, bias, and ownership of stories. This felt like the perfect time to get more personal with the narrative and was a wonderful addition to the overarching body of The Singing Hills Cycle.
Mammoths at the Gates is another resounding success for Vo and I hope these novellas keep coming. The dissection of the relationship between historians and history was extremely powerful and felt like the perfect evolution of the types of discussions this series is trying to provoke. As always, the writing had beautiful prose, poignant moments, and clarity of purpose which served its short page space fabulously. I implore you to please read these novellas, they will show you the power of stories, the skill of storytellers, and the strengths of novellas as a medium.
Rating: Mammoths At The Gate – 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.