Once upon a time Nghi Vo wrote a series of novellas about Cleric Chih, who collects stories as part of their life’s work. In this particular story, Chih and their escort, Scout Si-yu and the mammoth Piluk, are caught out at a way-station by a trio of hungry female tigers.
While the first book, The Empress of Salt and Fortune, is told in a story-within-a-story format, and the third, Into the Riverlands, is a series of tales about a hero interspersed with real-life adventures, this book explores the idea of alternate versions of stories. Chih has one version of a popular story about the fierce tiger Ho Thi Thao and the scholar Dieu; the tigers have another all together.
It mostly works, and if it doesn’t, it is because I have some ambivalence about the relationship in all the versions and the ferocity in general. It might also be because above all, I am a character reader, and I like it best when my characters aren’t terribly simplistic, as they are in both versions of the stories–as they usually are in legends. Still, I like the interplay between the tigers, Chih and Si-yu, the hints of the culture behind the mammoth riders and the eventual resolution.
I’ll note that for me, there’s always a challenge of dual storylines losing momentum. I think it could have been eased more with less focus on the threats and more transitional language. Still, I appreciate what Vo has done–especially in not going for the easy ending–and how they’ve made me think about story-telling in this series.
There will be a few mor Chi stories… I do not strictly love the characters in these stories, but I will probably continue to read them.
I saw there will be more. I find them intriguing. The last one was best.