{Story Diary} When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

Jan 19, 2021

when the tiger came down the mountain blog feature

Hi, friends! I'm so excited to share my story diary for Nghi Vo's recent companion novella in the Singing Hills Cycle today. If you missed my feature for the first novella The Empress of Salt and Fortune, you can check it out here (don't worry - there's no spoilers!).

when the tiger came down the mountain by nghi vo
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo
Adult SFF, LGBTQ+, Novella
December 8, 2020 from Tor

"Dangerous, subtle, unexpected and familiar, angry and ferocious and hopeful. . . . The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a remarkable accomplishment of storytelling."—NPR 

The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history. 

Nghi Vo returns to the empire of Ahn and The Singing Hills Cycle in this mesmerizing, lush standalone follow-up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune.

Reasons to Read When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

when the tiger came down the mountain nghi vo aesthetic
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is an adventurous follow-up/companion to The Empress of Salt and Fortune, but can be read as a standalone. But trust me, if you like this one you won't want to miss out on the first novella that started it all.

✎ It's an interesting story within a story that entails oral history and fables, which is painted without info-dumping.

✎ The animal companions and appearances: mammoths, shape-shifting tigers, and a ghoul. 🐯

✎ A beautiful sapphic relationship that steals the show and perhaps, readers hearts. 🌈

✎ Essentially a story of oral history, perspectives, narratives, storytelling, love, danger, travels, survival and more packed in this small but mighty novella.

✎ Challenges us, as readers/audience, to question the stories that are told to us, especially by those whose stories are not theirs to tell or teach. 

✎ The cleric/MC, Chih, offers to tell a group of tiger sisters whom cornered Chih & co. a tale (of which was butchered, as pointed out by the tiger sisters) in hopes of letting them escape. The tiger sisters, in turn, relay their version of the tale, to which Chih records, as clerics do. This brings attention to the last point and is a reminder: oral stories can be/often change by who tells it and vary from culture to culture. 📜

✎ There's an impromptu high stakes escape/rescue with action between mammoth + humans vs. tiger sisters. There's a tiny bit of action to keep you on your toes.

Tropes / Themes

☽ A story within a story
☽ Slow burn romance
☽ Animal companions
☽ Dry humor
☽ Storytelling and narratives
☽ Scholar/apex predator pairing
☽ High stakes escape
☽ Win back the love interest


☀ Nonbinary Vietnamese-coded/inspired MC (They/Them)
☀ Vietnamese-coded/inspired cast
☀ F/F side relationship

Content / Trigger Warnings

➤ Blood
➤ Skinning of animal carcasses
➤ On-page death
➤ Consuming of animal organs

when the tiger came down the mountain aesthetic

As the sun grew gripe and started to drop toward the horizon, scholar Dieu read the poem, and as she did, it came to Ho Thi Thao how very beautiful she was. She had been beautiful in bed for three nights, which was important, and she was beautiful now, when she was angry at having her way blocked. It came to Ho Thi Thao that perhaps she wanted to learn how else the scholar was beautiful, even in what ways the scholar might be ugly, which could also be fascinating and beloved.

--Nghi Vo, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

In her head, she thought of the constellation that she lived and moved in, the one that she had accepted, the one under which she slept and the one to which her heart had already been given, and there was no emperor involved. There was only a flash of orange and black, the slow blinking of eyes like gold.

--Nghi Vo, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

"My love has gone from me, and I will never again laugh. My love has gone from me and she has taken all light with her."

[. . .]

"I sit, in the moon-viewing pavilion, the hem of my sleeves wet from tears, and I cannot see for the grief has stolen my eyes, and I cannot speak for the grief has stolen my tongue."

[. . .]

"I sit, weeping, eyeless, tongueless, without laughter and absent from light. I sit, and I wait for the answer that only my wife would give."

Finally, the tiger spoke, and her words were soft as a summer wind, as gentle and smooth as Dieu's own.

"I am yours, and so I will be your light and your laughter. I am yours, so open your eyes to look at me, and open your mouth so that I may kiss it. I am yours, I am yours, and nevermore will I leave."

--Nghi Vo, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

"I will not eat unless it is from your hands."

--Nghi Vo, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

"Ask me for my name," Dieu said, and Ho Thi Thao nodded obediently.

"Give me your name," she said. "I want it now."

"My name is Trung Dieu," she said, and with a single blow, the tiger broke the bars on her cage and carried her away amidst the shouting of her would-be husband and his family.

Together, they ran all the way back to the Boarback Mountains, and for the rest of their nights together, Ho Thi Thao would eat every meal from her wife's fingers and kiss the scar on her hand before she went on to kiss the rest of her as well. They lived well-fed until they were only bones, and even their bones were happy, turning white and sharp as teeth in the moonlight.

--Nghi Vo, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

nghi vo
Nghi Vo lives on the shores of Lake Michigan, and her fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Expanded Horizons, Crossed Genres, and Icarus Magazine. She likes stories about things that fall through the cracks and live on the edges, and she has a deep love for tales of revolution (personal and political), transfiguration, and transmutation. She’s a writer by trade, a storyteller by nature, a volunteer by inclination, and a dreamer by design.

Have you read any of the novellas from the Singing Hills Cycle?
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