April 12, 2024

Review: Mammoths at the Gates

Mammoths at the Gates Mammoths at the Gates by Nghi Vo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a gentle, slice-of-life story that would almost qualify as a "cozy"--there are no terrible crises or world-threatening stakes, but rather an exploration of death, grief and the stories we tell each other about our world, to understand it and make sense of losing someone we love. This is the fourth in a series of novellas about the traveling cleric Chih, who collects stories and information and periodically returns to their abbey, Singing Hills, for that information to be processed. The abbey also houses a colony of intelligent birds, neixin, that have perfect memory and serve as a sort of living repository to record everything that happens.

Chih returns to the abbey after a four-year-absence to find something startling: the two titular "mammoths at the gates," war mammoths bearing two military officers that have taken up residence outside the abbey, demanding the return of their grandfather, Cleric Thien, who has recently died. This constitutes the entire conflict, but this story works because a) it's short, only novella length; and b) it concentrates on the characters, including the non-human ones.

At the end, one of the birds, Myriad Virtues, grieving the loss of her cleric, transforms into a doppleganger of Thien:

Chih could see the shape of it now, transformation fueled by grief. In the stories that Myriad Virtues had told Cleric Thien so long ago in Boddo, just a fraction of the explanations for the origin of the neixin, that was always the way of it. Great love or great passion or great vengeance had created the neixin, so perhaps it stood to reason that great sorrow could change them again.

The bird/human ends up leaving Singing Hills to tend the grave of Cleric Thien's deceased wife, and the mammoths and their handlers also depart, leaving Chih at the abbey for a brief stay before setting out again.

As you can see, this is pretty much a comfort read. You have to be in the mood for it, but it's a nice little break if you need it.

View all my reviews

No comments: