Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Into the Riverlands (The Singing Hills Cycle #3), by Nghi Vo

Tordotcom, ISBN 9781250851420, October 2022

Chih and the talking bird with the indelible memory, Almost Brilliant, travel into the riverlands to gather the stories of near-immortal martial artists that characterize the area. Along the way, they meet up with two young women (a martial artist, and her friend who makes sure the bills get paid), and an older couple, who might be a bit more than that seem. Including a bit older than they seem. The six of them band together to continue traveling to Betony Docks, where they are all bound.

After a lively debate about whether the ferry (safer) or the road (faster) is the better choice, including discussion of just how dangerous the road really is, in these calmer, more settled times, they set off on foot.

At first, all is going smoothly, and everyone is happy to join in with Chih's plan of sharing stories so that they and Almost Brilliant can collect them for the Singing Hills Abbey. The stories feature those near-immortal martial artists, both heroes and villains, all using magic in various ways. But at a welcome and unoccupied road shelter, they find an unpleasant surprise--a dead body hanging in the shelter, with the imprint of a legendary, murderous, and supposedly long-dead gang, the Hollow Hand.

They bury the man, and Chih does a traditional cleric's duty of praying over the grave, though that's a role they're rarely called on to fill. The travelers share more stories, and continue their travels the next day, but they are all more alert, and more tense. The tension and alertness aren't wasted; they are walking straight into trouble in Betony Docks, where they all, and Chih in particular, expected to find safety after the looming risks of the road.

Instead, they find the town under attack, by legendary villains. Chih, Almost Brilliant, and the martial artist and her friend, find out who they've been traveling with. It's a startling, terrifying, amazing experience.

I really hope for many more stories of the travels of Chih and Almost Brilliant.

I bought this book.

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