Lis Carey Review: Mammoths at the Gates 

  • Mammoths at the Gates (The Singing Hills Cycle #4) by Nghi Vo (Tordotcom, September 2023)

Review by Lis Carey: Cleric Chih travels widely, gathering stories, with a talking hoopoe bird. The hoopoe, Almost Brilliant, has perfect recall and serves as Chih’s neixin, ensuring that the stories will be retained perfectly, even as Chih records them on paper.

For the first time in years, Chih and Almost Brilliant are arriving home at the Singing Hills Abbey, to add their stories to the archives, and to rest. But there have been some changes at the abbey.

Cleric Thien, mentor to Chih and others when they were young and still new to the abbey, has died. Thien’s hoopoe, Myriad Virtues, is mourning as only a being with perfect memory can, and it’s been somewhat disruptive. 

More disruptive than that, however, are the royal mammoths at the gates of the abbey, and the two sisters demanding the return of the body of their grandfather, once the patriarch of the Coh clan of Northern Bell Pass. Which is to say, the body of Cleric Thien, who intended to be buried according to the rites of the Singing Hills Abbey, not those of his former clan.

The granddaughters are not taking no for an answer, and the mammoths, if given the order, could crush the entire abbey, including all its treasured archives.

Chih finds themself, with less assistance than usual from Almost Brilliant, needing to learn a great deal very quickly about the clan, about Thien’s history both before joining the abbey and since, and about the history of the hoopoe. What’s Almost Brilliant doing instead? Spending a lot of time with Myriad Virtues, helping, comforting and maybe something more.

I’ve loved all the Chih and Almost Brilliant novellas. In this one, because Chih themself needs to learn more about the abbey’s history, there are some fascinating additions to the reader’s understanding of what they are all about.

This is a 2024 Hugo Awards Best Novella.

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3 thoughts on “Lis Carey Review: Mammoths at the Gates 

  1. Pingback: AMAZING NEWS FROM FANDOM: June 9, 2024 - Amazing Stories

  2. I loved this one. I’ve read the first two but this one stands out from the rest.

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