Review of When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain (Vo)

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

Vo (The Chosen and the Beautiful) is another repeat author for me. When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain follows The Empress of Salt and Fortune, though one could easily be read before the other.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is the story of stories. Protagonist Chih, a cleric from the Singing Hills Abbey, is on their way, via a young mammoth and her handler, to collect more stories and make records of events when they’re met by three hungry (and angry) tiger sisters. Agreeing to tell a story of the tigers’ choosing in exchange for their lives, Chih is forced to tell a loaded story—one the tigers warn her not to get wrong too often.

when the tiger came down the mountain small cover image
Cover of When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, by Nghi Vo

The tiger’s version, however, disagrees on many key details and even in “the best part,” as one tiger sister puts it. As Chih tries to navigate the differences between the human and tiger version of a famous story of Ahn (filled with LGBTQ characters, love and ghosts), this swift and lyrical novella captivated me as much or more than The Empress of Salt and Fortune.

Vo’s lyrical writing and the series’ captivating take on legends from across Asia continue to be like nothing else I’ve ever read. The plot, hinging on two versions of one story, made me think about the spaces between the two and the life-changing effects of storytelling. The wistful ending also made me long for a book three all the more, so I could see what stories Chih learns next.

To learn more about this author, visit Nghi Vo’s website.

Review: The Chosen and the Beautiful (Vo)

A Review of The Chosen and the Beautiful, by Nghi Vo

In The Chosen and the Beautiful, the author of The Empress of Salt and Fortune loosely retells Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby through the eyes of a very different Jordan. This Jordan, who is identified in the book blurb as queer (though she never labels herself), was adopted by the religious but not exactly well-meaning Bakers of Louisville from Tonkin (Vietnam). The opening scene, in which Jordan and Daisy literally float around the latter’s mansion on a hot summer day, positions The Chosen and the Beautiful on a creative, magical path that kept me turning pages.

Jordan occupies a ritzy and often lonesome world shaped by magic, parties, demons and xenophobia. Add to this her mysterious ability to make cut paper come to life and The Chosen and the Beautiful becomes a completely unique book. Change the names and places, and it would be one.

“There are women who will forgive a great deal for a moment of kindness from a handsome man, but Daisy and the other older girls who had taken me under their wings had taught me not to be one of them.”

–Jordan in The Chosen and the Beautiful

In Vo’s world of dark magic and recreational demon’s blood, the relationship between Daisy and Jordan is as complex as Jordan’s relationship with her country. Daisy leans on Jordan for unending support, often at great cost. Jordan, with the blasé attitude that helps her survive in a strict home and a city with few people who look like her, goes along with what Daisy wants, and often seeks out her companionship. Her involvement with Daisy’s tangled affairs becomes inevitable.

Certain scenes from The Great Gatsby are dropped into The Chosen and the Beautiful with faithfulness. Other intrusions by Gatsby, who may have sold his soul to attain wealth instead of becoming a bootlegger, take on a shape unique to the book.

Vo’s Gatsby himself is queer (again, no labels in the actual text), and something of a cad despite his love for Daisy; when Jordan meets him a magically hidden club where members of the LGBTQ community can be themselves, she isn’t shy about pointing out Gatsby’s recent encounter with a “rent boy” in crude terms. He sets his sights on Nick, too, putting him at instant odds with Jordan.

Gatsby’s other relationships and liaisons make his declaration of love for Daisy feel forced, but also color it as the obsession Fitzgerald may have intended it as (the original Gatsby has a naive quality, despite being a World War I veteran and a bootlegger, and though he never appears ruthless like Vo’s Gatsby, his innocence and belief in true love is more of a wish to turn back time than a reality). The scene where Gatsby knocks over the clock is even included in Vo’s version, though how he gets to Nick’s house is far messier and more awkward.

Needless to say, Nick’s character is also different. His relationship with Jordan is closer—Vo’s Jordan is also less detached, and less on a society pedestal, than Fitzgerald’s Jordan, making the attachment natural—though it’s no secret that Nick sees other people when he’s not with her. She does, too, but has far more feelings about his lack of devotion that he does, hinting at her vulnerability even as she claims she doesn’t care. I thought the eventual big reveal about Nick’s personality and nature effective and moving. Coupled with Jordan’s reaction, it made the book for me.

Vo also delves into other long-standing societal problems (namely xenophobia and racism), leaving immigrant Jordan, who is essentially a Dreamer, in a bad and unexpected position. Her interactions with other Vietnamese paper magicians are uncomfortable and leave her feeling like an outsider in two different cultures. Jordan also admits to avoiding Chinatown and other people who look like her, preferring to be a novelty on her own while fearing how white Americans, many of whom are hoping to expel foreigners with a pending bill, would view her in a cluster of Asian immigrants.

Jordan is really the best part of The Chosen and the Beautiful—and to be honest, I think she deserved her own story without Gatsby butting in, a tale inspired by The Great Gatsby rather than a retelling. By The Chosen and the Beautiful‘s poignant end, I wish there had been more Jordan, and maybe no Gatsby at all.

To learn more about this author, visit

July 2021 Updates

July 2021 Updates: The blog is back.

Hi everyone!

Apologies for the, er, absent state of the blog lately. I’ve been hard at work with revisions on the next book in the Tara’s Necklace series, and something had to give. Unfortunately, it was the blog this time (and a whole lot of tidying up!).

Reviews in Brief

Witches Steeped in Gold, by Ciannon Smart – Don’t overlook the fact that a sequel is coming! I sadly didn’t realize and expected a more satisfying wrap-up. Other than that, though, the world of dueling narrators Jazmyne and Iraya is absolutely fascinating. I found myself rooting for both heroines, knowing all the while (and anticipating that) they would one day face off. As much as I appreciated this book, I do wish it had gotten to all the good stuff faster! 

The Chosen and the Beautiful, by Nghi Vo – The author of The Empress of Salt and Fortune loosely retells Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby through the eyes of a very different Jordan. Jordan, a queer female MC who was adopted by from Vietnam, occupies a ritzy and often lonesome world shaped by magic, parties, demons and xenophobia.  She’s really the best part–and by the poignant end, I wish there’d been more Jordan, and maybe no Gatsby at all.

What I'm Reading

A Trial of Thorns, by Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince – This follow-up to An Enchantment of Thorns takes Aster to the Sky Court, with a completely different aesthetic. The writing, too, is a bit different, but a key conversation with a certain dashing beast has completely captivated me. Team Aster all the way. (Note: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.)

What's Next on the Book Blog?

Catching up on my backlog of reviews, of course! You’ll see longer versions of at least one of the above this month.

Author Blog News

I’m still on pace to release Girl of Glass and Fury on August 21, 2021, but just barely! Expect it to be widely available for presale soon.

In the meantime, Girl of Shadow and Glass is FREE as part of the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale (July 1st-31st). Not a Smashwords fan? You can find it for 99c at the other retailers.

See you again soon!



Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune (Vo)

A Review of The Empress of Salt and Fortune

“The Empress of Salt and Fortune belongs to all her subjects, and she was romantic and terrible and glamorous and sometimes all three at once. There are dozens of plays written about her, and some are good enough that they may last a little while even after she is gone. Older women wear their hair in braided crowns like she did, and because garnets were her favorite gem, they are everywhere in the capital.

“In-yo belonged to Anh, but Thriving Fortune only belonged to us.”

– Rabbit, telling her story to Cleric Chih and Almost Brilliant

If you read any book this month, let it be The Empress of Salt and Fortune. It won’t take long. This beautifully written, surprisingly short book is as tidy as cleric Chih’s records, and as wonderful and heartbreaking as the story of the Empress of Salt and Fortune herself.

The writing leans toward prose (lovely, fast-moving prose), the ending is a bit abrupt, and I felt one of the key emotional moments in The Empress of Salt and Fortune was a bit too underplayed. Yet reading over the ending and some of my highlights, I feel that same heartache the story left me with all over again. I’m happy to overlook my grumblings about those things, and I think many other readers will be, too, precisely because of that writing and the emotional punch it carries.

“…You could also find a beauty in it, a kind of peace even in something that was at first so very unsettling. I’d cried the first time I saw the luminescence of the lake. Now most nights, I slept on the porch, bathed in its red glow. If it was a monster of some kind, it was a monster that watched over me, and, at the very least, it had not devoured me yet.”
– Rabbit, on Lake Scarlet

The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a story full of uncommon elements. The opening chapter is packed with world-building, without pausing to explain it; protagonist Chih is in a hurry, after all. Instead of grand battle scenes in this tale of revolution, there a plot twists. The title character appears only once as a ghost, treated reverently by other ghosts on a road, and Chih, who is at first mistaken for a girl by part-time narrator Rabbit, is a cleric from the abbey at Singing Hills and not a girl. In the world of The Empress of Salt and Fortune, clerics, who are charged with traveling the world to record its history and events and locations, are they and them.

Throughout the book, chapters often begin with Chih and Almost Brilliant’s inventory of the house at Lake Scarlet, the sarcastically named Thriving Fortune. This is part of Chih and their neixin companion’s work. “The abbey at Singing Hills would say that if a record cannot be perfect,” Chih tells Rabbit, the now-elderly servant she meets there, “it should at least be present. Better for it to exist than for it to be perfect and only in your mind.” Pride drives Chih on this detour to the newly declassified Lake Scarlet; she desires to be the first cleric to record Thriving Fortune’s details. “Welcome to your place in history, grandmother,” Chih tells Rabbit as the now-elderly woman begins her story.

And that story matters a lot, because of its famous former resident.

In-yo, the Empress of Salt and Fortune, and Rabbit meet in the capital, where Rabbit is a palace servant and In-yo has become the new wife of the emperor. As a northerner, from a country known for mammoths and being bullied by Anh, In-yo is ill at ease in the south, where mages keep winter at bay and mammoths can’t survive. She isn’t well-received, either. The ladies and servants of the court fear her at first, “because the women of the north were all thought to be witches and sorceresses. Then [the noble ladies] discovered her great secret, that she was only a heartbroken and lonely girl, and she became of no account at all.”

Though In-yo is exiled to Thriving Fortune after producing an heir, clearly she plays a long game. The beginnings of the revolution trickle into the story with details not even Rabbit, devoted to the Empress as she is, could make sense of at the time. In-yo is a complex character, seen only through the eyes of others but depicted sympathetically and unflinchingly by Rabbit. In The Empress of Salt and Fortune, revolution is told through relationships rather than battles.

There is more to Rabbit herself, too. “For a single faraway moment, she looked like something other than a simple servant woman, but it was there and gone so fast that Chih could not say for sure what it was.” Naturally, Rabbit is more entwined with history than anyone knows. She suffers for her association with In-yo, and without it, too.

Rabbit’s life with In-yo is also easier and less formal than at court. There are fewer risks, too, for many of the years they reside there. But later experiences that could have left her bitter and angry never affect the choices she makes, though they leave her feeling worn and older than her years. She’s an understated, constant and lovable presence in the story.

“She had a foreigner’s beauty, like a language we do not know how to read…her face was as flat as a dish and almost perfectly round. Pearl-faced, they call it where she came from, but piggish is what they called it here.” And “as far as In-yo was concerned, she had no equals in all the empire.”
– Rabbit on In-yo, the Empress of Salt and Fortune

Rabbit sums it up best, in one of her recollections, with one of the most quotable lines in the book (and there are quite a few): “One drunken evening, many years on, In-yo would say that the war was won by silenced and nameless women, and it would be hard to argue with her.” Alone at Thriving Fortune, having outlived the Empress and so many others but still carrying their secrets, Rabbit could easily have been one of those women without Chih’s arrival. It’s this sad reality that brings a quiet joy to Rabbit’s story of loss, revolution and betrayal.

The world-building of The Empress of Salt and Fortune is lightly sketched but creative. Rather than spend a lot of time on the details, key aspects are revealed in matter-of-fact conversation, from the glowing Lake Scarlet’s origin as the resting place of a dying star, to a carp that became a calico dragon, and the ghostly imperial palanquin that Chih encounters on the road to Thriving Fortune. There are hidden dangers from creatures we never quite see, and ghosts are omnipresent. It made me want to continue journeying with Cleric Chih and Almost Brilliant—and Vo’s beautiful writing—just to see more of it.

To learn more about this author, visit