The Golden Age of the Novella: The Singing Hills Cycle by Nghi Vo

The Golden Age of the Novella: The Singing Hills Cycle by Nghi Vo

All three volumes in The Singing Hills Cycle: The Empress of Salt and Fortune,
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, and Into the Riverlands (, 2020-2022). Covers by Alyssa Winans

Happy book birthday to Into the Riverlands, the third volume in Nghi Vo’s acclaimed The Singing Hills Cycle!

In its review of the second volume, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, The Chicago Review of Books said “We are in a golden age of the novella,” and boy, that’s the truth. alone has published many hundreds of novellas since they launched their novella line in September 2015, and for the past half-decade or so they’ve thoroughly dominated the long-form Hugo and Nebula ballot, with series like Martha Wells Murderbot, Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children, Becky Chambers’ A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti, and many, many others.

Last year the Hugo Award for Best Novella was awarded to Nghi Vo for her debut release The Empress of Salt and Fortune. It was followed less than ten months later by When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, which Publishers Weekly called “Dazzling.” It’s delightful to see the third volume in this groundbreaking fantasy series arrive so quickly after the first two.

[Click the images for Award-winning versions.]

Back covers for The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

There have been plenty of enthusiastic reviews of The Empress of Salt and Fortune, but Jessica Wick’s thoughtful piece at NPR is my favorite.

Nghi Vo’s story of women and intrigue at the end of one empire and beginning of another reveals in flashes that what you think you see isn’t all there is to see. It asks — and answers — the question: What is important? Who is important? Here, the old aphorism “all that glitters is not gold” is particularly apt.

Cleric Chih is on their way to the new Empress’s first Dragon Court, accompanied by their assistant Almost Brilliant… when word comes that all sites put under imperial lock during the previous Empress In-Yo’s reign have been declassified. Fortunately, they happen to be near Lake Scarlet, the haunted site of In-Yo’s exile from court “before the mammoth trampled the lion.”

They can’t resist the chance to be first to uncover Lake Scarlet’s secrets about this mysterious but important time in the empire’s history, and are surprised to find the residence there, though locked down, hasn’t been abandoned.

An old peasant woman called Rabbit, whose family owns an inn down the road, welcomes them, offering up the first of the site’s secrets when she gives Chih its other name: Thriving Fortune… Rabbit — who came to Thriving Fortune as part of Empress In-Yo’s servant retinue and was privy to intimate details of her daily life — becomes an invaluable source of information for Chih and Almost Brilliant as they explore, excavating objects and discovering surprising truths about In-Yo’s early reign.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a remarkable accomplishment of storytelling.

Read the whole thing here.

Here’s the complete publishing deets.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (118 pages, $12.99 trade paperback/$3.99 digital, March 24, 2020)
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain (128 pages, $15.99 trade paperback/$3.99 digital, December 8, 2020)
Into the Riverlands (112 pages, $19.99 hardcover/$10.99 digital, October 25, 2022)

All three books were published by, with covers by Alyssa Winans. The first two volumes are just $3.99 in digital format — give ’em and try and let us know what you think!

See all our coverage of the best new SF and fantasy series here.

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Joe H.

The first two were _outstanding_ and I have no reason to believe the third will be anything other. It’ll be a while before I get to it, though, because I just started Tasha Suri’s Jasmine Throne books (which also got a nice write-up here).

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