The Brides of High Hill
by Nghi VoGenres: Fantasy
Series: The Singing Hills Cycle #5
Nghi Vo's Hugo Award-winning Singing Hills Cycle returns with a standalone gothic mystery that unfolds in the empire of Ahn.
The Cleric Chih accompanies a beautiful young bride to her wedding to the aging ruler of a crumbling estate situated at the crossroads of dead empires. The bride's party is welcomed with elaborate courtesies and extravagant banquets, but between the frightened servants and the cryptic warnings of the lord's mad son, they quickly realize that something is haunting the shadowed halls.
As Chih and the bride-to-be explore empty rooms and desolate courtyards, they are drawn into the mystery of what became of Lord Guo's previous wives and the dark history of Do Cao itself. But as the wedding night draws to its close, Chih will learn at their peril that not all monsters are to be found in the shadows; some monsters hide in plain sight.
I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Nghi Vo’s latest Singing Hills novella starts off by setting you up with some expectations, right from the blurb, and skillfully leans on that to guide you through the novella to the crisis point. It feels darker to me than the previous novellas in this series, with a real sense of unease throughout — not that the others have no sense of looming consequences, but I was more frightened for Cleric Chih than I usually would be. Chih has been drawn into something they may not be able to get out of, where they’re not so much an observer anymore, or just interested in how things turn out, but a part of the tale and critically affected by whatever will happen. Which is not the first time, I suppose, but this just felt more immediate.
I think Vo does an amazing job at teasing things out, with some little hints along the way to help you catch on so that once it all becomes clear, it’s really clear. It’s difficult to say much about this story without spoiling that journey, so I won’t say any more on that.
I did find that once certain things started happening, it all unravelled really quickly and I almost stumbled. I guess that’d be my only critique, but the story caught me when I stumbled and rearranged the world so everything made sense, so maybe that moment is really just part of the experience.