The Brides of High Hill by Nghi Vo fantasy book reviewsThe Brides of High Hill by Nghi Vo fantasy book reviewsThe Brides of High Hill by Nghi Vo

The Brides of High Hill (2024) is the fifth installment in Nghi Vo’s SINGING HILLS series of novellas. I found it a solid enough of a story if a bit slight, though it’s possible that if, unlike me, you’ve read the others you might have a more positive response.

Cleric Chih is accompanying a young bride, Nhung, and her parents to the estate of Lord Guo, where Nhung is to be wed to her wealthy but far older husband-to-be. Upon their arrival, while everything seems fine on the surface — nice quarters, the usual ritual series of banquets — as Chih and Nhung spend more time there more and more disquieting elements crop up: a son who seems to be suffering from some sort of illness (or curse)that sees him locked away and on occasion sedated; strange containers of foul-smelling herbs, ominous warnings, oddly reticent staff, and hints that something untoward has happened to the estate owner’s prior wives (think a hint of Bluebeard’s Wives).

Vo shows a deftly precise hand in constructing the book’s pace: the story moves smoothly along, opening relatively slowly with quiet conversations, time spent vividly detailing physical settings, clothing, and food (particularly food), all so the reader can settle in comfortably before a creeping sense of dread begins to emerge, disturbing that comfort as the narrative slowly begins to pick up the pace until exploding into action towards the end.The Singing Hills Cycle by Nghi Vo (Author)

The details/worldbuilding are relatively sparse as accords the novella form, but more than adequate and sharply vivid at all the right points. A gothic sort of atmosphere is nicely conveyed via shadows, an isolated estate, signs of rot and decay, the “crazy in the attic character”, odd dreams, and more. The twist at the end is mostly well handled and set up with enough sign posts that I’d say you can see an idea of what’s coming but not enough so that the close doesn’t come as a surprise in its details.

All in all The Brides of High Hill is a well-crafted, well-constructed tale that shows an author in complete control, even if I can’t say I was emotionally engaged or felt wholly compelled by it. Those with a more long-lasting connection to this world/character may get both the appreciation of the writing and the emotional bonus.

Published in May 2024. The Cleric Chih accompanies a beautiful young bride to her wedding to the aging ruler of a crumbling estate situated at the crossroads of dead empires. The bride’s party is welcomed with elaborate courtesies and extravagant banquets, but between the frightened servants and the cryptic warnings of the lord’s mad son, they quickly realize that something is haunting the shadowed halls.

As Chih and the bride-to-be explore empty rooms and desolate courtyards, they are drawn into the mystery of what became of Lord Guo’s previous wives and the dark history of Doi Cao itself. But as the wedding night draws to its close, Chih will learn at their peril that not all monsters are to be found in the shadows; some monsters hide in plain sight.


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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