• The Good: Beautiful, atmospheric prose
  • The Bad: Unfulfilling plot
  • The Literary: An homage to traditional oral storytelling

Cleric Chih returns home to Singing Hills Abbey after years of wandering. Their mentor Cleric Thien died while they were away, and now Cleric Thien’s family is demanding the body. Cleric Chih wants Cleric Thien to rest among the abbey, but Thien’s granddaughters threaten to storm the gates with their huge royal mammoths.

The Single Hills Cycle is a sweet Hugo Award-winning series, all starring Cleric Chih. Because they aren’t serial, the reader can pick them up in any order, which is nice, because I read them when a particular installment is nominated.

Mostly this is a story about grief, friendships, duty, and coming home. Like much popular fantasy right now, this is quiet and cute (witty talking bird anyone?), but it’s also contemplative in a way that’s difficult to find. The series explores the art of storytelling, as Chih collects stories in their wanderings. But coming home and facing death, Chih contemplates who owns a person’s legacy once they’re gone.

The plot doesn’t do much. The threat of a royal family stampeding the gates of a monastery never really feels like much of a threat. Don’t expect the tension of battle mammoths to hold your attention. Instead, I’d recommend this short and ruminative story for those quietly exploring their own grief and the stories we tell ourselves.