Singing Hills has always been a practical sort of place. Debates are passed down like treasured antiques. They’ll probably be fighting over whether we did the right thing or whether there was even a right thing to do in this situation for ages.
Chih is a wandering Cleric of the Singing Hills Abbey, journeying out to find stories, information, research, or gossip and jokes. Anything worth recording, anything worth remembering. Singing Hills, like its sister abbeys, collects this information in its vast archives, recording the history of the world, from the mating habits of finches to the rise and fall of kings. This time, though, the adventure seems to be waiting for them at home rather than something they find along the road.
There are two mammoths outside the gates of the abbey — royal mammoths — and their riders are demanding the body of Cleric Thien, Chih’s mentor. They hadn’t known about, and were certainly not prepared to come home to, the loss of their beloved teacher, a teacher who chose to make their home Singing Hills Abbey, a teacher whose body will be prepared and interred along with the bodies of other clerics as they deserve. But Thien’s granddaughters are insistent. They want the body, and they’ll bring down the walls of the abbey to get to it.
What is owed, and to whom? Thien’s life before they became a cleric is a life gone and put away. The wife they left behind and the children, the position in court. None of it has any place in the life they chose to make in the abbey. Cleric Ru, Chih’s dearest friend, is acting Divine and refuses to back down. Everything Chih does to help is met with anger, and Chih has no idea how to help, all while still grieving for their teacher.
But Chih isn’t the only one grieving. Myriad Virtues, an abbey neixin whose heart is broken by the loss of her human companion, has had her wing feathers cut. No longer able to fly, she now walks. Instead of making new memories, she is living in old ones. And Chih still has no idea how to help.
The novellas of The Singing Hills Cycle are linked by the cleric Chih, but may be read in any order, with each story serving as an entrypoint. Chih, as a cleric, has no set gender. They — and their fellow clerics — are referred to as they/them, and each cleric seems to have a bond with one or several neixin, magical creatures in the form of birds who remember everything. Everything a foolish young novice did, every oath they took and the ones they broke, as well as the stories they are told. They’re fascinating and are one of the best parts of this book.
This is a lyrical story about loss and grief, about the difference between justice and morality, about the memories of people — the ones they leave behind, and the ones they make. It’s the love between friends, teachers, and students, and it’s beautiful and I love it. It’s the sort of book you start, thinking you’ll just read the first few pages, and look up some unknown time later, regretting that it’s over. The world building is lush, the writing is gorgeous, and I could easily devour an entire epic taking place in this world. This is the fourth book in the Singing Hills Cycle, though — as mentioned above — every book is a standalone. I am now off to go get the other three.
I really hope you take the chance to read this novella.