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Wedding Bells

The Brides of High Hill  (Singing Hills Cycle, volume 5)

By Nghi Vo 

29 Mar, 2024

Doing the WFC's Homework


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2024’s novella The Brides of High Hill is the fifth volume in Nghi Vo’s secondary universe fantasy Singing Hills Cycle.

En route to Doi Cao, the Pham entourage encounters indigo-robed Cleric Chih while en route to Pham Nhung’s impending wedding. Believing that a cleric would be a propitious addition to a wedding party, Nhung and her parents persuade Chih to accompany them to Doi Cao.

The walls of Doi Cao are grim and foreboding, a reflection of western Ji’s unfortunate history1. Within the curtain walls, however, is an estate worthy of a high-ranking lord. How fortunate for Nhung, who is destined to spend the rest of her life in Doi Cao.

But all is not well. Lord Guo’s son, Guo Zhihao, appears deranged or at least upset to the point of mania over his father’s impending marriage. Precisely what has alarmed him or if the bridal party should itself be concerned, is beyond his ability to convey.

On closer examination, the cleric discovers that Zhihao has been bespelled. He can only provide oblique warnings because someone has taken steps to prevent him from saying anything directly. Clearly something is very wrong in Doi Cao.

Chih is a compulsive story-collector; she understands that she is caught up in a dark tale. If only Chih’s memory-spirit, Almost Brilliant, were with Chih, Chih could identify precisely what sort of story is unfolding. But Almost Brilliant is nowhere to be seen.

Nothing for it but to allow events to play out.


No Newbery Award warning is required for this novella.

This is the second fantasy I have encountered in the last week that concerns a family marrying off a daughter to a high-born person. The outlook is uncertain because alarming facts about the groom and the marriage have been overlooked… overlooked because the match offers enormous benefits. Or seems to do so.

Aristocratic marriage negotiations that feature in fantasy tales often resemble confidence games. The offer must be accepted immediately; there’s no time for due diligence. The potential rewards of the match are so large that prudent consideration is derailed. If I were to advise fantasy families considering marriage, I would counsel:

  • asking if the groom has been married before and if so, where the wives are now;
  • asking for supporting documentation;
  • looking for unexplained lights in the attic.

The families of fantasy spouses-to-be never do this. One can count on greed and ambition to blind people to the most glaring evidence.

Brides was a last-minute substitution for another work I won’t identify except to say it was disappointing. Brides was short, a virtue when trying to fit work into a schedule, but more importantly, Vo’s track record suggested that the novella would not disappoint. The risk is, of course, that one may gamble and lose. Perhaps the sure thing is not sure at all? Perhaps only bitter disappointment is waiting?

But in this case readers will find exactly what they want. Vo’s novella is (by nature of being a novella) short and to the point. The clues as to what is going on are clear, despite which readers may well be surprised by the resolution. If the elegant structure were not sufficient, the characters are engaging and the prose up to Vo’s high standard.

The Brides of High Hill is available (for pre-order until May 7, 2024) here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books).

1: The problem with Ji is that the Empire considers western Ji a province, while western Ji considers itself an independent nation.