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When the children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox sought a wiseman to save them. He found master Li Kao, a scholar with a slight flaw in his character. Together, they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure. The quest led them to a host of truly memorable characters, multiple wonders, incredible adventures—and stra When the children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox sought a wiseman to save them. He found master Li Kao, a scholar with a slight flaw in his character. Together, they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure. The quest led them to a host of truly memorable characters, multiple wonders, incredible adventures—and strange coincidences, which were really not coincidences at all. And it involved them in an ancient crime that still perturbed the serenity of Heaven. Simply and charmingly told, this is a wry tale, a sly tale, and a story of wisdom delightfully askew. Once read, its marvels and beauty will not easily fade from the mind. The author claims that this is a novel of an ancient China that never was. But, oh…it should have been!


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When the children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox sought a wiseman to save them. He found master Li Kao, a scholar with a slight flaw in his character. Together, they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure. The quest led them to a host of truly memorable characters, multiple wonders, incredible adventures—and stra When the children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox sought a wiseman to save them. He found master Li Kao, a scholar with a slight flaw in his character. Together, they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure. The quest led them to a host of truly memorable characters, multiple wonders, incredible adventures—and strange coincidences, which were really not coincidences at all. And it involved them in an ancient crime that still perturbed the serenity of Heaven. Simply and charmingly told, this is a wry tale, a sly tale, and a story of wisdom delightfully askew. Once read, its marvels and beauty will not easily fade from the mind. The author claims that this is a novel of an ancient China that never was. But, oh…it should have been!

30 review for Bridge of Birds

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mario the lone bookwolf

    Badass ingenious drunken master style exploring Asian culture rocks the bamboo. It´s unique and rare to find such individual writings and the man just wrote 4 novels. I would compare him with Pratchett and I don´t know if I´ve ever done it before and it´s mainly because of the underlying subtility, as there are other humoristic authors with more laughs, dynamic, and plotting, but how this thing is written just blows my mind. Taking just two, stereotypical, character tropes and creating such an int Badass ingenious drunken master style exploring Asian culture rocks the bamboo. It´s unique and rare to find such individual writings and the man just wrote 4 novels. I would compare him with Pratchett and I don´t know if I´ve ever done it before and it´s mainly because of the underlying subtility, as there are other humoristic authors with more laughs, dynamic, and plotting, but how this thing is written just blows my mind. Taking just two, stereotypical, character tropes and creating such an intense, densely packed, clever, funny, intelligent, and incomparable work, a true masterpiece is amazing, and the readers´ luck of the sheer coincidence that a late author such as Hughart decided to bestow a milestone of literature to the world. I wish I would know more about Asian culture, tradition, and mythology to be able to enjoy all the innuendos, depth, subtility, and wisdom Hughart includes in his outstanding series and as if there wasn´t enough to blame publishers for, they sabotaged Hughart who wanted to write more parts of it but couldn´t get certainly published and didn´t write them because of that. Ok, possibly there might be the readers´ to accuse too, but the evil industry seems to be a much better target and I am a reader too so let´s better stay with that instead of starting to think about the impact of mainstream compulsion horror on both pages of the reading front. Hughart said later that it could have also been that he couldn´t have had more material without repeating himself, but that sounds more like resignation than the truth, as Asian culture is a treasure chest of ideas. However it happened, it´s a disgrace that there could have been more parts instead of an implosion of creativity and I hope that the time for unconventional, alcoholic, cynic, old, wise, philosophizing, not European or US detectives with deep social criticism will come one day. It would be a great alternative to those vampire werewolf emo zombie hordes or the ultimate stereotypes known from the psychothriller and crime genre. Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.ph...

  2. 4 out of 5

    carol.

    “Nothing on the face of this earth–and I do mean nothing–is half so dangerous as a children’s story that happens to be real, and you and I are wandering blindfolded through a myth devised by a maniac.” Bridge of Birds opens on a pastoral setting, a remote unicorn-shaped village in the peaceful valley of Cho in ancient China. Narrated by Yu Lu, also known as Number Ten Ox (the tenth of his father’s sons and as strong as an ox), it begins with a promising silk season coming to an abrupt end. A plag “Nothing on the face of this earth–and I do mean nothing–is half so dangerous as a children’s story that happens to be real, and you and I are wandering blindfolded through a myth devised by a maniac.” Bridge of Birds opens on a pastoral setting, a remote unicorn-shaped village in the peaceful valley of Cho in ancient China. Narrated by Yu Lu, also known as Number Ten Ox (the tenth of his father’s sons and as strong as an ox), it begins with a promising silk season coming to an abrupt end. A plague strikes the village’s youth and at the same time decimates the silk harvest. Number Ten Ox volunteers to run to Peking to bring a wise man back to the village. Unfortunately, all of the cosmopolitan wise men laugh at Ox and his mere five thousand copper, all except a hung-over Master Li. “Could this be the great Li Kao… who had been elevated to the highest rank of mandarin, and whose mighty head was now being used as a pillow for drunken flies?” After a brief restorative, Master Li takes pity on Ox’s plight and determines they need to make haste back to the village. Poor Number Ten Ox. He has never met the likes of Master Li, former first place scholar among all the scholars in China (a mere seventy-eight years ago). But he has a slight flaw in his character. “The abbot paused to consider his words…’You are a good boy, and I would not like to meet the man who can surpass you in physical strength, but you know very little about this wicked world,’ the abbot said slowly. ‘To tell you the truth, I am not so worried about the damage to your body as I am about the damage to your soul. You see, you know nothing whatsoever about men like Master Li… His voice trailed off, and he groped for the proper words. Then he decided that it would take several years to prepare me properly.” What follows is along the lines of traditional folk tales and orphan adventures; the quest to save the children of the village, Ox as the innocent youth and Li as the wise man/guide–except Master Li’s wisdom often comes from knowing the wicked ways of human nature and his own participation in debauchery. He also seems to have read all the great tales, as his solutions sound suspiciously familiar. One of the first chapters is how Master Li tricks a rich miser out of enough gold to finance their trip (and gets Ox a night with the young concubine to boot). Their third or fourth adventure is an exceptional revenge on a selfish princess, and another one a bloody mess. Hughart is able to manage the delicate balance humorous violence requires, perhaps by invoking our earliest folk tales, such as the one where Bluebeard keeps bodies in a locked room, or the version of Little Red where the huntsman hacks open the wolf to free her and grandma. Horrific, but so clearly symbolic, so clearly not real. Their adventures take them throughout China, and from one frying pan to another. There’s ghosts, dungeons, a tricksy duo, an evil duke, a labyrinth, an enormously rich man, a tower, treasure, fond friends, a torture chamber, redemption, gods (and there’s even a little kissing). If it lacks the R.O.U.S., it makes up for it with an invisible hand. “The supernatural can be very annoying until one finds the key that transforms it into science,’ he observed mildly. ‘I’m probably imagining complications that don’t exist. Come on, Ox, let’s go out and get killed.'” Writing is lovely and contains a satisfactory balance of description and action. Gentle humor abounds. There’s a motif where Li and Ox are certain they are going to die and share hopes of what they will be reborn as on the Great Wheel. Li prefers the three-toed-sloth, Ox a cloud. Later, a third company member adds another angle to their bucolic reincarnation. But Master Li is clearly the cynic of the bunch, and his comments usually provide comic relief: “‘Well, it’s an idea, and even a bad idea is better than none,’ said Master Li. ‘Error can point the way to truth, while empty-headedness can only lead to more empty-headedness or to a career in politics.'” It’s silly, sweet, subversive and really clever. Ox’s youthful innocence is charming and believable, and while Master Li knows much, he is clearly puzzling his way through the quest as well. The end was a lovely synthesis, satisfying both emotionally and in plotting, both immediate and symbolic. Barry Hughart clearly has a flaw in his character. The world needs more Master Li. “‘O great and might Master Li, pray impart to me the Secret of Wisdom!’ he bawled… To my great credit I never batted an eyelash. ‘Take a large bowl,’ I said. ‘Fill it with equal measure of fact, fantasy, history, mythology, science, superstition, logic, and lunacy. Darken the mixture with bitter tears, brighten it with howls of laughter, toss in three thousand years of civilization, bellow kan pei–which means ‘dry cup’–and drink to the dregs.’ Procopius stared at me. ‘And I will be wise,’ he asked. ‘Better,’ I said. ‘You will be Chinese.'”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lyn

    I most definitely have more than a slight flaw in my character, and I only liked this book, did not love it. Truth be told, it is a simply, elegantly written account of an oddly alternate history of China – describing the journey of Master Li and Number Ten Ox in dealing with a mysterious disease; and lots of other stuff. I can absolutely see where someone (without a slight flaw in their character) would LOVE this book and want to read all of the sequels, want to take this book on dates, propose, I most definitely have more than a slight flaw in my character, and I only liked this book, did not love it. Truth be told, it is a simply, elegantly written account of an oddly alternate history of China – describing the journey of Master Li and Number Ten Ox in dealing with a mysterious disease; and lots of other stuff. I can absolutely see where someone (without a slight flaw in their character) would LOVE this book and want to read all of the sequels, want to take this book on dates, propose, get married and have little alternate history Chinese babies and live happily ever after. But … you know, slight flawed character me. Writer Hughart has used this odd vehicle to create a fabulously imagined fantasy – almost a modern fable, with simple but stylish sub plots and several loosely connected story lines that actually do get tied up nicely at the end. Besides the grounding in Chinese history (alternatively) this just seemed untied and flapping in the wind – a fantasy that came unglued somewhere. Still pretty good.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Sven

    This book is insane! Insanely fun that is. The humour really drives the plot forward with a gag a minute just rolling through one on top of the other. It was hilarious. Set in Medieval China, the children of the village of Ku-Fu have been struck with a plague and pure hearted Number Ten Ox has been sent to find a wise man for help “We need a wise man who can tell us how a plague can learn to count...” Enter Master Li who repeatedly during the story introduces himself as “My surname is Li and my pe This book is insane! Insanely fun that is. The humour really drives the plot forward with a gag a minute just rolling through one on top of the other. It was hilarious. Set in Medieval China, the children of the village of Ku-Fu have been struck with a plague and pure hearted Number Ten Ox has been sent to find a wise man for help “We need a wise man who can tell us how a plague can learn to count...” Enter Master Li who repeatedly during the story introduces himself as “My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character...” We could go ahead and try to guess what exactly Master Li’s personal flaw is but really, we can have a few good guesses as both Master Li and Number Ten Ox embark on a quest that sees them lying, stealing, cheating and swindling their way across China all in the name of the poor plague ridden children of Ku-Fu. There are really no depths our two heroes will not stoop to (or rather Master Li will stoop to) in the name of the greater good, whether it be convincing a merchant to buy a gold shitting goat, or bartering an ear that gives the children of one’s enemies leprosy. In the process of searching for the cure for the children of Ku-Fu they will also uncover a 1000 year old mystery which needs to be solved for there to be any chance of ridding the village of the plague. On their way they will come across many interesting characters with the most elegant names like Pretty Ping, or Fainting Maid, or Lotus Cloud, and my personal favourite Cut-Off-Their-Balls Wang. The humour had my family members raising their eyebrows as I sat shaking with mirth. For instance, do you know how a gravedigger avoids burying his shadow? The obvious answer would seem that you can’t bury your shadow. But Pawnbroker Feng and Ma the Grub have a more sensible solution “Careful with that shovel!” yelped Ma the Grub, leaping back in fear. “You almost trapped my shadow inside the grave!” “Why don’t you tie your shadow to your body with a cord, like a sensible person?” Pawnbroker Fang grumbled. As you may have guessed by now the tone is rather light hearted throughout. But one should not expect that this is therefore a light easy brainless read. You need to pay attention. The book employs an economy of words that sees the most insignificant detail as important for advancing the plot from encounter to encounter, following it’s own convoluted internal logic. What is more, these details come back to play a part in the larger story. As zany as the story appears, you can actually solve the 1000 year old mystery if you ask the right questions and pay attention to the dialogue. I did not guess the ending because I was totally distracted from how important certain clues were. But they were there and I was kicking myself for discarding them. So I guess a reread is in order at some stage. Anyway, I enjoyed the book and my advice for other readers is, don’t read when you are tired. You will enjoy the humour and the story a lot more while alert. 4 stars

  5. 4 out of 5

    David

    When I moonlighted at the late, lamented "The Stars Our Destination" between about 1996 and 2000, this was one of two books Alice Bentley stocked in vast quantity at deeply-discounted prices (the other being the store's namesake). When you love a book like Alice loved this one, you want to make sure everyone reads it, and she was its zealous advocate to our not-yet-enlightened clientele. It was the sort of book that disappoints you when you have to leave it at the end, like being exiled from a w When I moonlighted at the late, lamented "The Stars Our Destination" between about 1996 and 2000, this was one of two books Alice Bentley stocked in vast quantity at deeply-discounted prices (the other being the store's namesake). When you love a book like Alice loved this one, you want to make sure everyone reads it, and she was its zealous advocate to our not-yet-enlightened clientele. It was the sort of book that disappoints you when you have to leave it at the end, like being exiled from a wondrous, frightening, invigorating fantasyland. What hurt all the more was the comparative rarity of Hughart's two followups, "The Story of the Stone" and "Eight Skilled Gentlemen," which were only extant in book-club and small-run softcover editions, respectively. These three stand as Hughart's only novels to date--which is simultaneously a damn shame and a relief. You never want to see an author you love decline, and it seems authors inevitably do. Instead, Hughart produced three works in a bubble and then quietly departed the field, leaving something special behind him. I note, for the sake of completeness, that The Stars Our Destination also published an omnibus edition of the complete trilogy with Barry Hughart's blessing. Whether those are easier to find than the originals, I can't say.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Heidi The Reader

    Bridge of Birds is a charming, award-winning fantasy novel that follows the investigative efforts of Master Li as he strives to safe the mysteriously stricken children from the village where Number Ten Ox lives. "Jade plate, Six, Eight. Fire that burns hot, Night that is not. Fire that burns cold, First Silver, then gold." pg 22, ebook A beautiful blend of myth and fantasy, the reader is ferried from one exotic locale to the next at the side of the two heroes, one ancient and one young with surpri Bridge of Birds is a charming, award-winning fantasy novel that follows the investigative efforts of Master Li as he strives to safe the mysteriously stricken children from the village where Number Ten Ox lives. "Jade plate, Six, Eight. Fire that burns hot, Night that is not. Fire that burns cold, First Silver, then gold." pg 22, ebook A beautiful blend of myth and fantasy, the reader is ferried from one exotic locale to the next at the side of the two heroes, one ancient and one young with surprising strength. We navigate dangerous mazes to hidden treasure hoards, satisfy the grieving souls of haunted ghosts, and marvel at the lightning intellect of Master Li, the scholarly genius with "a slight flaw in his character". "My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character," he said matter-of-factly. "You got a problem?" pg 32, ebook There is very little downtime in Bridge of Birds. And just when you think things couldn't possibly get worse for Master Li and Number Ten Ox, somehow they do. Despite its breakneck pacing, I found many beautiful moments to marvel over in this story. It is a fairy tale with both substance and heart. Easy to see why it received the 1985 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and 1986 Mythopoeic Award for Best Fantasy. I think that's even more impressive when you consider this was Barry Hughart's debut novel. "Reverend Sir, in your studies of myth and folklore, have you ever encountered a ghostly handmaiden who pleads that birds must fly?" pg 154, ebook Highly recommended for readers who like fantasy and historical fiction novels with a dash of mystery and for their heroes to have slight flaws in their character - such a propensity to drink too much wine or the willingness to swindle others but for very good reasons.

  7. 4 out of 5

    LeAnne: GeezerMom

    This hilarious and charming book is probably the most fun bro-mance I've ever run across! It gets five stars from me as a fable.. similar to Big Fish or The Princess Bride in tone, but with way more laugh out loud moments. Did I already mention charm?? A young fellow living in ancient China has been dispatched to find help from a wise man - any wise man available for a handful of copper pennies - for the children of his village have collapsed with some type of plague affecting only those between This hilarious and charming book is probably the most fun bro-mance I've ever run across! It gets five stars from me as a fable.. similar to Big Fish or The Princess Bride in tone, but with way more laugh out loud moments. Did I already mention charm?? A young fellow living in ancient China has been dispatched to find help from a wise man - any wise man available for a handful of copper pennies - for the children of his village have collapsed with some type of plague affecting only those between the ages of 8 and 13. He must hire a sage to cure the little ones from an illness that 'knows how to count.' Number Ten Ox (he is the tenth son of his father and is as strong as, well...you know) can only afford a wine-soaked healer called Master Li Kao. As it turns out, Master Li is the precise, wiley, criminally oriented 110 year old they need! The children have accidentally been poisoned, and only The Great Root of Power (1000 year old ginseng with arm-like appendages) can save them. Now, to go steal it! Number Ten Ox and Master Li set off on a series of adventures that include characters named Henpicked-Ho, Cut-Off-Their-Balls Wang, etc. and involve trickery, faked corpses, and other Brer Rabbit-like subterfuge. The villains are over the top horrendous in uproarious ways, and you'll cheer their downfalls. Foodies will snicker over the detailed preparation of Porcupine Paste (serve it with a gold instead of silver serving spoon and the diner will DIE!. If you liked The Princess Bride, you will love Bridge of Birds! I highly recommend this to high school or college aged readers and anybody young at heart. Fantasy is totally not my genre of choice, but I applaud and understand all the wonderful awards this adventuresome book won. Upon introducing oneself, we learn that it is polite to say "My surname is Cantrell, my personal name is LeAnne, and there is a slight flaw in my character." This book, though, is FLAWLESS!! Super fun.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I can't think of a book quite like this. BoB is a light-hearted Chinese fantasy that is refreshing and completely enjoyable. Hughart makes the folktales and legends of ancient China seem utterly commonplace and this lends to the surreality of the story. After reading a number of very serious books, I really needed a novel like this! I can't think of a book quite like this. BoB is a light-hearted Chinese fantasy that is refreshing and completely enjoyable. Hughart makes the folktales and legends of ancient China seem utterly commonplace and this lends to the surreality of the story. After reading a number of very serious books, I really needed a novel like this!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Writing a review of Bridge of Birds is a challenge that I admit to not being up to. I do not know of words that are powerful enough to do even a half-rate job of conveying just how fantastic I think this book is. Nevertheless, I shall attempt it, as the most important thing in the entire world right now is that I convince everyone to read this book*. Number Ten Ox (who isn't actually an Ox, but was his parents' 10th child, and is rather large) is a peasant farmer in the titular China That Never W Writing a review of Bridge of Birds is a challenge that I admit to not being up to. I do not know of words that are powerful enough to do even a half-rate job of conveying just how fantastic I think this book is. Nevertheless, I shall attempt it, as the most important thing in the entire world right now is that I convince everyone to read this book*. Number Ten Ox (who isn't actually an Ox, but was his parents' 10th child, and is rather large) is a peasant farmer in the titular China That Never Was. During the annual harvesting of silk, many children in his village fall sick with a plague. He departs to go to Peking to find a wise man to help cure the children, but the only wise man he can afford is Li Kao, who proudly proclaims to have a "slight flaw in his character". It should be noted that he proclaims this (for this first time) as Number Ten Ox finds Li Kao coming to from a drunken stupor and demanding more wine. Thus begins one of the greatest adventure stories I have ever read. Comparable to some of Neil Gaiman's best, or to The Princess Bride, Bridge of Birds starts with a simple medical mystery, and escalates rapidly. This escalation is particularly joyous for the reader to experience, as it occurs through the wide eyed point of view of Number Ten Ox, who has essentially never left his tiny village before he finds himself in large cities, the estates of nobility, isolated monasteries, and witnessing (and participating in!) unimaginable events all in the hopes of curing the children of his village. That last bit is kind of a lie, but I won't clarify for fear of spoiling things. Delightful (and dastardly) characters pop in and out, providing aid (willingly or unwilling) or hindrance (usually this part is willing) to the--let's say--"heroic duo"'s quest. Henpecked Ho. Miser Shen. The Ancestress. Lotus Cloud. The Key Rabbit. Pawnbroker Fang and Ma the Grub. Bright Star. Fainting Maid. The names of the characters are already so full of the special charm that pervades this book, that I don't even want to tell you any more about them. Really, the charm is a large part of what makes this book so special. So rather than trying to come up with words powerful enough to make you read this book, I'll just leave you with words that I've lifted straight out of it: His hands shot out, a blade glinted, blood spurted and he calmly dropped the thug's earring into his pocket, along with the ear that was attached to it. "My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character," he said with a polite bow. "This is my esteemed client, Number Ten Ox, who is about to strike you over the head with a blunt object." I wasn't quite sure what a blunt object was, but I was spared the embarrassment of asking when the thug sat down at a table and began to cry. "I'd do it myself if I were ninety, but it appears that Lotus Cloud will be your department. You may console youself with the thought the most expensive woman in the world is likely to be the most beautiful" "Master Li, I shall do my duty," I said bravely. "Any last words?" asked the sergeant at arms. I was only Number Ten Ox, so I lifted my head to [redacted]. "I hope I splatted blood all over you, you son of a sow!" I yelled. Oddly enough I felt much better, and I stopped gagging at the thick sweet smell of blood. We... gazed down a hundred feet of sheer cliff... at an angry sea where waves smashed against jagged rocks that lifted through the foam like teeth. There was one small calm pool almost directly beneath us, but for all I knew it was six inches deep... "My life has been rather hectic, and I could use a long rest," [Master Li] sighed. "When I get to Hell to be judged, I intend to ask the Yama Kings to let me be reborn as a three-toed sloth. Do you have any preference?" I thought about it. "A cloud," I said shyly. ...I perched on the edge and took aim. "Farewell, sloth." "Farewell, cloud." I held my nose and jumped. *things going on right now, for future reference: 2012 Olympic Games, Economic Woes, Kim Jong Un just got married, Twilight chick cheated on Twilight dude, Ongoing campaigning for 2012 American presidential election, Scientists tentatively believe they have a cure for AIDS, Chick-Fil-A hates gay people, I have some food stuck in my teeth, and the Seattle Sounders just signed a new midfielder.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Veronica Belmont

    I feel bad. I finished this book two days after we recorded the episode of Sword and Laser where we wrap it up (first time I haven't finished a book for the audio show). I blame Outlander for being too long. Anyhow, I wish I had made it to the end, because coming away from the book now I feel much differently than I did at the 75% mark. If felt like the silliness that was almost a distraction for me came together in the end in a really beautiful and meaningful way. You all said I'd feel different I feel bad. I finished this book two days after we recorded the episode of Sword and Laser where we wrap it up (first time I haven't finished a book for the audio show). I blame Outlander for being too long. Anyhow, I wish I had made it to the end, because coming away from the book now I feel much differently than I did at the 75% mark. If felt like the silliness that was almost a distraction for me came together in the end in a really beautiful and meaningful way. You all said I'd feel different, and you were right. I should listen to you more often.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kara Babcock

    Second review: November 2017 Gosh, has it really been 7 years—nearly 8?—since I read this? Feels like no time at all. Anyway, after not enjoying Who Fears Death, I was struck with a sudden … craving (?) for this book. Just an urge to re-read it. I can’t explain why. I just knew it would help. And it definitely did. I have little to add about the book itself in this second review—my first review stands. I’ll say that I picked up on a lot more of the … uh … sexual stuff this time around. 20-year-old Second review: November 2017 Gosh, has it really been 7 years—nearly 8?—since I read this? Feels like no time at all. Anyway, after not enjoying Who Fears Death, I was struck with a sudden … craving (?) for this book. Just an urge to re-read it. I can’t explain why. I just knew it would help. And it definitely did. I have little to add about the book itself in this second review—my first review stands. I’ll say that I picked up on a lot more of the … uh … sexual stuff this time around. 20-year-old Ben was a precious innocent. Original review: January 2010 I'm starting to get to the age where I'm reading books now and saying, "Why wasn't this published when I was younger?! This is what I've been missing all these years; this fills the gap that, until it was filled, I never knew existed!" Although Bridge of Birds was published before I was born, it still provokes a similar feeling (one of, "Why didn't I know about this when I was younger?"). There's something seductive about fables and fairy tales—the real, often grim fairy tales that lurk in the subconscious of every culture. In showing us "an ancient China that never was," Barry Hughart embraces the atmosphere of a fable and the kernel of darkness it should contain. Reading Bridge of Birds was fulfilling—not only cathartic, but reassuring. The repetitive structure of the plot (quest, then return to the village, quest, etc.) combines with the rhythmic style of the prose to manipulate one's emotions. Although Bridge of Birds has a happy ending, with the heroes vanquishing the villain and freeing the damsel in distress, there's a sinister sense that they got off easy and that more was at stake than was ever apparent. There are books that have happy endings because they are "feel good" books that put little at stake. Then there are books that have happy endings because they have something to say about happiness. Bridge of Birds is the latter. But here I am, talking in vague generalities. One reason I'm doing this is that Bridge of Birds, to me, feels like a complete narrative only when considered as a whole … analyzing the individual parts of the story removes them from the context they need to remain vital. As the ending of the story reveals, it's impossible to understand the quest for the Great Root of Power without understanding the Duke of Ch'in and why he must be deposed. But why believe me? Li Kao, although he has a slight flaw in his character, says it best: This is a fellow who arranged things so that anyone who went after him would have to wander through the landscape of a homicidal fairy tale, which makes no sense if you think of him as a great and powerful ruler, but which makes perfect sense if you think of him as he once was: a cowardly little boy lying in bed at night, staring in terror at every noise and seeing monsters in every shadow. He grew older, but it can scarcely be said that he grew up, because he was so frightened at the thought of death that he was willing to commit any crime, and even to lose his heart if it would keep him from the Great Wheel of Transmigrations. This is a diagnosis of the Duke of Ch'in that strikes me as accurate, not just of the character but of the evils he represents. Hughart is also a master of foreshadowing in this book, and as the Duke of Ch'in's identity falls into place and we learn how he came to be so powerful, we see just how well Hughart laid out the steps leading up to the climax: the myth of the Princess of Birds and Star Shepherd, the scrutinizing powers of the Old Man of the Mountain, the tales of ginseng. It's true that there's an inordinate amount of coincidence in the book, so much so that it becomes almost trite. Yet I'm inclined to forgive Hughart; he takes a gamble, and it pays off. Aside from his above remarks, and his oft-repeated introductory phrase, I most enjoyed Li Kao for his interpretation of why Number Ten Ox and Miser Shen were devoted to Lotus Cloud but he was not. Master Li's "slight flaw" in his character prevented him from attaining the innocence of these other two, and thus prevented him from seeing Lotus Cloud's hidden godly nature. In that sense, I suspect the Duke of Ch'in is guilty of having supernumerary flaws of character. Master Li has lived long and has grown too cynical to stay completely uncorrupted. He has lived well, however, and preserved his sense of adventure and justice. The Duke of Ch'in, on the other hand, has lived too long, and has not lived well. His longevity has made him a more perverted, corrupted, and more cowardly man than he was in his youth. I found the contrast between the Duke and Master Li the most striking; there were many others, such as the brain/brawn pairing of Li and Number Ten Ox, and the transformations of Henpecked Ho and Miser Shen. For such a short book, there's an awful lot to Bridge of Birds. The book's description doesn't do it justice and in fact doesn't let on to what actually takes place in the story. As such, Bridge of Birds is something of a hidden gem: it is far more fantastical, much more magical, than what one would initially expect. Suspend your scepticism along with your disbelief, and Bridge of Birds will win over your heart (just don't put it in a box in the middle of a city at the bottom of a lake).

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This was the February pick for the Sword and Laser, and I'm glad I read it. It feels more like a translation of a Chinese mythological tale than a novel written by a guy named Barry in 1984. That's a good thing, in my opinion. It has a lot of the humor found in bizarre characters and nonsensical cultural practices (because of an emperor's whim or fetishization, I am not saying that the Chinese are nonsensical) that I have seen in a lot of *actual* Chinese literature, and Japanese too. The fantas This was the February pick for the Sword and Laser, and I'm glad I read it. It feels more like a translation of a Chinese mythological tale than a novel written by a guy named Barry in 1984. That's a good thing, in my opinion. It has a lot of the humor found in bizarre characters and nonsensical cultural practices (because of an emperor's whim or fetishization, I am not saying that the Chinese are nonsensical) that I have seen in a lot of *actual* Chinese literature, and Japanese too. The fantasy elements are rampant in mythological beings, some characters who seem to live forever, and situations/people who don't quite follow the laws of nature. The two main characters become Master Li and Ten Number Ox. Li has been consulted to cure the children from his village who are comatose after a silkworm incident, and they go on a quest for a legendary root. Master Li is quite a character, and always seems to know just enough to pull them into crazy adventures and out. Perhaps that is just his slight flaw? Much of the story has beautiful imagery, and that adds to a pleasant and quick read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character. So says Master Li to Number Ten Ox when Ox is sent to the city to find a sage to assist his village, dealing with a mysterious disease. I personally was born in the Year of the Ox and therefore had a soft spot for Number Ten Ox. This novel rated about 3.5 stars for me which, I hasten to add, I consider to be a good rating. I may have been reading Bridge of Birds at the wrong moment for me, as I am in a bit of My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character. So says Master Li to Number Ten Ox when Ox is sent to the city to find a sage to assist his village, dealing with a mysterious disease. I personally was born in the Year of the Ox and therefore had a soft spot for Number Ten Ox. This novel rated about 3.5 stars for me which, I hasten to add, I consider to be a good rating. I may have been reading Bridge of Birds at the wrong moment for me, as I am in a bit of a reading slump right now and finding it difficult to concentrate on the page. Or there may be a slight flaw in my character. In many ways, BoB reminded me of reading Aesop’s fables—as a reader, I was very aware that the author was not in any way attempting to reconstruct Ancient China. He was using Ancient China for a fun backdrop to his own kind of fable, enjoying have different cultural elements to play with than are common in Western literature. He did, however, borrow the trope of the shady character who really has a heart of gold and who uses his criminal talents for a good cause. I thought of Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat many times while reading Bridge of Birds. Master Li is the brains of the operation and Number Ten Ox is the brawn. That reminded me strongly of Fritz Leiber’s Ffafhrd and the Gray Mouser series. Some of Master Li and Number Ten Ox’s adventures may also have been influenced by the Indiana Jones movie franchise. An enjoyable, fun book well suited to lunch-break reading.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sandi

    I was really torn between 3 & 4 stars for "Bridge of Birds". I enjoyed the story and thought that the setting (ancient China) and characters were quite unique for fantasy. I loved that it was a done-in-one fantasy. I thought the prose was beautifully lyrical. It was funny in places. However, the story fell a little bit flat because it was told in the style of a myth or fable. The characters were more like caricatures than three-dimensional people. I didn't sense any great urgency to their obviou I was really torn between 3 & 4 stars for "Bridge of Birds". I enjoyed the story and thought that the setting (ancient China) and characters were quite unique for fantasy. I loved that it was a done-in-one fantasy. I thought the prose was beautifully lyrical. It was funny in places. However, the story fell a little bit flat because it was told in the style of a myth or fable. The characters were more like caricatures than three-dimensional people. I didn't sense any great urgency to their obviously urgent quest. I liked it well enough, but I don't know if this is going to be one of those books I remember a few years from now. If you need a light, escapist fantasy that's a bit unusual, "Bridge of Birds" is a good choice.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Vivian

    "Don't be ashamed of reliving your childhood, Ox, because all of us must do it now and again in order to maintain our sanity". At a party, a neighbor, unprompted thrust it into my hand saying, read this. Now as I teetered home downhill on my heels, slightly tipsy, I thought why, oh why did I get snookered into this. TWO YEARS LATER This was wonderful, and I never should have doubted my friend. I also shouldn't have left it on the bookshelf for so long, only to be asked about it at every subsequent "Don't be ashamed of reliving your childhood, Ox, because all of us must do it now and again in order to maintain our sanity". At a party, a neighbor, unprompted thrust it into my hand saying, read this. Now as I teetered home downhill on my heels, slightly tipsy, I thought why, oh why did I get snookered into this. TWO YEARS LATER This was wonderful, and I never should have doubted my friend. I also shouldn't have left it on the bookshelf for so long, only to be asked about it at every subsequent gathering. Guilt was beginning to get the better of me and then I saw carol.'s review in the feed last month--5 stars! Then I checked my other friends: 3- 5 stars and 2- 3 stars. Guilt got a big nudge two weeks ago when Dan 2.0 with whom I had been recently acquainted added it to his To-Read list. I pounced. Inquired if Dan had any interest in a buddy read--yes. Success! Now, I had to do it or be that person, the kind that says they'll read with you and then disappears. Nope, not me. Shut up and talk about the book, already. This was a cleverly written folk tale. More specifically, I categorize it as a fable since it has moral elements. Number Ten Ox is the quintessential pure hero, simple country boy, padawan. While Master Li, well, he has "a slight flaw in his character", represents the wise elder leading the young hero on his journey. What follows is an amusing series of absurdities. What elevates this is that it is very clever, very funny, and oddly touching. Through horrible catastrophes and gruesome deaths you begin to feel for not just the heroes and the downtrodden, but even those who have done less than honorable things. It's really quite wonderful. Yeah, it gets 5 stars because it nailed the ending.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    3.5 stars. Best way I can think of to describe this book is that it is beautifully written "fable" set in China. It is clever, funny and very original. Recommended!! Winner: Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (1986) Winner: World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (1985)(tie) 3.5 stars. Best way I can think of to describe this book is that it is beautifully written "fable" set in China. It is clever, funny and very original. Recommended!! Winner: Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (1986) Winner: World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (1985)(tie)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sean O'Hara

    For years people have been telling me how great this book is, and I can only conclude that they read it when it first came out in the '80s and forgot all the awful bits, 'cause it turns out the story is littered with sexism and outright misogyny. But, somebody is sure to say, isn't this a story of ancient China? Women's lib, not so big back then. That's true to some extent, though, as often the case with history, not to the extent we think. Furthermore, note the subtitle of the book -- "A Novel o For years people have been telling me how great this book is, and I can only conclude that they read it when it first came out in the '80s and forgot all the awful bits, 'cause it turns out the story is littered with sexism and outright misogyny. But, somebody is sure to say, isn't this a story of ancient China? Women's lib, not so big back then. That's true to some extent, though, as often the case with history, not to the extent we think. Furthermore, note the subtitle of the book -- "A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was." Hughart plays fast and loose with Chinese history and culture whenever it suits his purpose, so he could've made a non-sexist world if he wanted, but he chose not to. In point of fact, he altered part of Chinese culture to fit the sexist nature of his story. At the climax of the book we learn that the story is actually a secret history of the Qixi festival. In the real world the Qixi legend tells of how a goddess fell in love with a mortal cowherd, but her divine mother, Xi Wangmu, forced them to separate. This book then tells the story of how a pair of adventurers helped the cowherd reunite with the goddess -- but Hughart genderflips the whole thing so the cowherd is a peasant girl and the goddess is a divine shepherd. Because it's so much more fun when it's a helpless girl who needs rescuing -- making it a guy would just be boring. Oh, and Xi Wangmu is replaced by the male god, Yu Huang, which at least as some basis as an alternate version of the Qixi legend, but still, Hughart had a choice and opted for the version with a male god instead of a female. Sadly, this is the least offensive example of sexism in the book. Let's just look at some passages: "What are you doing?" cried Pretty Ping. "I am undressing," I said, because I had been well brought up and I would never dream of contradicting so venerable a sage as Li Kao. Besides, I had been told to obey him by the abbot, who was praying for my soul. "I shall scream!" cried Pretty Ping. "I sincerely hope so. Ah, if I could only beninety again," Master Li said nostalgically. "Ox, flex a few muscles for the young lady." Pretty Ping stared at me, as Li Kao turned and trotted back down the stairs... Her luscious lips parted. "Help," said Pretty Ping. Yes, folks, Our Hero is a rapist! Oh frabjous day! Now some folk have assured me that this scene is meant to be farcical and Pretty Ping is just feigning reluctance because of her social position. Okay, supposing that's true ... so what? That just means that the scene is playing into the tired old notion that sometimes "no" means "yes," and if the woman doesn't gouge the guy's eyes out she's really giving consent. That's not funny; it's fucking apologia for date rape. A few chapters later we get this: Lady Wu, whose beauty was said to rival that of the semi-legendary Queen Feiyen, was carried into the bushes by a creature who had no ears or nose, and whose eyes were as yellow as his teeth. We all have our little weaknesses, but I must question the judgment of Cut-Off-Their-Balls Wang when he abandoned his fellow hooded monks to disport in the bushes with Lady Wu. He missed a great deal of excitement. Ha-ha-ha! Rape is funny. Fuck you Barry Hughart. But the pièce de résistance is this: "I chopped [my wife] into pieces, and then I chopped her seven fat sisters to pieces. It was delightful," said Henpecked Ho. "Then I came here to try to chop the Ancestress to pieces, but her soldiers caught me first. Oh well, I suppose that one can’t have everything. "Ho, you did splendidly!" Master Li said. What did his wife and sisters-in-law do that was so awful as to deserve death by dismemberment? Nothing that we saw in the story -- we just know that Henpecked Ho finds them fat and annoying, which apparently is a crime deserving of axe-murder. And before anyone suggests that maybe we shouldn't take Master Li and Number Ten Ox's opinions as being reflective of the author's views, nope, heaven itself gives a seal of approval to Henpecked Ho at the end of the book. The fact is, every woman with any agency in this book is portrayed as a wicked harridan who deserves to be put into the woodchipper, and every other female character is a damsel in distress or other object to be moved about by the male characters, who are the only people allowed to act on their own. I know society has moved on since the 1980s, but Jesus, was it really that bad back then that crap like this got published and praised?

  18. 4 out of 5

    Armina

    Just listened to the beginning of this here at Forgotten Classics (first 11 mins are kinda introduction about the author and stuff) and suddenly I'm so very excited about it! Soon! Just listened to the beginning of this here at Forgotten Classics (first 11 mins are kinda introduction about the author and stuff) and suddenly I'm so very excited about it! Soon!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rhylan

    Here's my dirty literary secret: I don't like Sherlock Holmes. I wasn't intrigued by the mysteries, and the characters "ejaculating" everywhere with their 19th century speech and stuffy manners bored me. (I enjoy the Brontës, Austen and other writers from the same period. For some reason Doyle's particular brand of stuffy didn't connect.) While it's often compared to a Holmesian caper, I was pleased to find Bridge of Birds doesn't suffer from the same sense of propriety. Indeed, one of the protag Here's my dirty literary secret: I don't like Sherlock Holmes. I wasn't intrigued by the mysteries, and the characters "ejaculating" everywhere with their 19th century speech and stuffy manners bored me. (I enjoy the Brontës, Austen and other writers from the same period. For some reason Doyle's particular brand of stuffy didn't connect.) While it's often compared to a Holmesian caper, I was pleased to find Bridge of Birds doesn't suffer from the same sense of propriety. Indeed, one of the protagonists is brilliant but has a "slight flaw in his character," meaning he's an unrepentant drunk who steals, stabs and swindles his way to success. Now there's someone who can hold my attention! The rogue in question is Master Li Kao, a scholar for hire whose skills are bought for booze and congee by a young man dubbed Number Ten Ox. (He's really strong and the 10th child in his family.) Ox comes from an idyllic farming village that's been struck by a plague, and when local wisdom runs dry, he's dispatched to find help in the city. The rest of the story is not so much about Ox and Li Kao determining the cause of the sickness or its cure, both of which are revealed early on, but the hijinks they get into while seeking the remedy. The tale takes place in an "ancient China that never was" full of bumbling criminals, dangerous dukes, cursed ghosts and magical ginseng spirits. To me it reads something like a cross between a zen koan and a Stephen Chow movie. I loved it. Stories like this sink or swim by the strength of their framing, since there's no shortage of books founded on "quirky duo goes on adventures." But readers are in for a treat, because Bridge of Birds has a frame made of pearls and precious jade. Hughart's prose can be breathtakingly lovely, and it brings to life a landscape full of vibrant green ricefields, windswept mountains and tantalizing marketplaces. He also offers one of the most charming and succinct summations of China I've ever read: " 'Take a large bowl,' I said. 'Fill it with equal measures of fact, fantasy, history, mythology, science, superstition, logic, and lunacy. Darken the mixture with bitter tears, brighten it with howls of laughter, toss in three thousand years of civilization, bellow kan pei—which means 'dry cup'—and drink to the dregs.' Procopius stared at me. 'And will I be wise?' he asked. 'Better,' I said. 'You will be Chinese.' " Hughart's writing is all the more admirable for its sense of economy. His turns of phrase dazzle in their simplicity, never veering into excess. This beauty is counterbalanced by a predilection for casual violence and delightfully juvenile humor, often involving bodily fluids: "... I hugged a few dogs as I solemnly chanted the sacred vow of the Seven Bloody Bandits of the Dragon Bones Cave. 'Bat shit, rat shit, three-toed sloth shit, bones and blades and bloody oath writ—' 'Now that has real merit,' A voice said approvingly. 'It beats the scholar's oath by a mile and a half.' " And so it goes. Nobles and peasants. Sarcasm and slapstick. The high and low. Bridge of Birds is as timeless yet playful as a nursery rhyme. Although the book doesn't shy away from humanity's dark side, things never feel oppressively grim. Hughart approaches every situation with tongue in cheek, dampening the blunt force of cruelty and murder with a sparkling wit. No matter how bad things seem, the comedy is palpable and you're sure to enjoy a hell of a ride. The story keeps you on your toes, thanks in part to the unique way Hughart structures scenes. You'll often be halfway into a problem's resolution without ever realizing it. Imagine: Cat is stuck in tree. Cat is suddenly flying through the air? Li Kao has devised a giant paper kite so it can ride to safety. Li Kao rides on Ox's back, and I feel like that has to be a nod to a common depiction of Laozi (founder of Taoism) In the hands of a less adept writer this could feel like blindsiding, but instead it kept me in anticipation of Li Kao's unconventional solutions. I actually had to re-read scenes, not because I was confused, but because I was giddy with a sense of, "Wait, they did what!?" Bridge of Birds was fast on its way to becoming one of my favorite books, and I'd say it still holds that position, but with one notable reservation. Most of the female characters are horrible. And that's fine! BoB's cast is almost entirely made up of horrible people. Their glaring vices are what make them so entertaining. However, the women's shortcomings are all cut from the most stereotypical cloth: gold diggers, castrating crones or vapid beauties. "Night rain is falling on the village of Ku-Fu, glinting through moonbeams that slide through thin clouds, and the soft splashing sound outside my window blends with the drip of ink from the mouse-whiskered tip of my writing brush." The few shown in a positive light are wholly incapable, relegated to damsel status so the heroes can save them. Although I don't hear this issue brought up often, author Cat Valente noticed the same thing. There is one chapter where the heroes arguably help a female character save herself, and I liked that scene best. Considering BoB is meant to be a light-hearted romp, it was all the more jarring to be chuckling one moment then cringing the next, because I couldn't believe a father murdering his wife and her sisters, and a bandit's propensity for rape both got played for laughs. There's a quote from Trudy Cooper, creator of the comic Oglaf  (NSFW), that's always stuck with me. When an interviewer asked why her female characters tended to be bullies, she responded: "It’s just that jerks are funny. Girl jerks are… well, they’re no funnier... [but] the other option is woman-as-victim. Doing that and not having it bleak and horrible would need a delicate touch, and hey! Fuck that! That sounds waaaaay too hard. Girl jerks. Easier than working." Can we get some ladies who don't suck up in here? While she's par for the course, I do admit I loved Lotus Cloud. Girl is hilarious. I'm on board with her. It's near impossible to make violence toward women an effective punchline when gender-based violence is an all-too-real issue, and in that respect Hughart had all the delicacy of an elephant stampeding through a tea shop. I forced myself to reserve judgment for most of BoB, partly out of respect for Hughart's storytelling and partly out of a feeble hope. Maybe, I thought, this was just his schtick. Maybe he wanted to shock his audience, get them laughing before pulling the rug out from under them. "Wow, this situation actually isn't funny at all! Revelation!" Except I'd have been more inclined to believe he'd written all the sexist portrayals ironically (or at least impartially) if he'd included a single nuanced or redeemable woman. Sadly, such a character never came. I still deeply recommend Bridge of Birds. It's one of the most unabashedly fun books I've read in a long time, with a big heart at its core. I think the appropriation, which has become something of a dirty word, was done in an even-handed and respectful way. It's no more irreverent or wacky than many modern Chinese movies, and Hughart incorporates real folklore in addition to his own creations. My hope is that the two sequels, The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen, introduce better female representation. Still, if you're a fan of cheeky humor, mythology and great writing, Bridge of Birds deserves a place in your treasure room. Also posted to Armorbelle. First image by Stephanie Law.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jarvis

    “My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character.” PLOT: In the beginning of the novel, the village of Ku-fu is stricken by a plague which kills its silkworms and sends its children between the ages of eight and thirteen into a coma. Number Ten Ox, the narrator, is dispatched to find a wise man who can cure the children. In Peking, he finds Master Li Kao, a drunken scholar with a self-described "slight flaw in his character", who immediately identifies “My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character.” PLOT: In the beginning of the novel, the village of Ku-fu is stricken by a plague which kills its silkworms and sends its children between the ages of eight and thirteen into a coma. Number Ten Ox, the narrator, is dispatched to find a wise man who can cure the children. In Peking, he finds Master Li Kao, a drunken scholar with a self-described "slight flaw in his character", who immediately identifies the cause of the plague as ku poison, an incurable poison inflicted on the village by two dishonest villagers trying to corner the silk crop. In order to cure the children, Ox and Master Li set out to find the Great Root of Power which can cure anything. They begin by seeking it in the palace of the feared Ancestress. It turns out, however, the Ancestress possesses only the lesser Root of Power, and the true Great Root is in the possession of the tyrannical Duke of Ch'in. In this quest they become a part of a bigger quest, the quest of Bridge of Birds. CHARACTERS: Number Ten Ox : Lu Yu aka Number Ten Ox is the narrator of this book. He goes in search of Great Root of Power with Master Li Kao. The narration is humorous and sarcastic at times. Master Li Kao always introduced him as his client but I liked the way the character is written like a student to Li Kao. Master Li Kao : Li Kao is like a mad scientist, crazy but intelligent. His character is smart and funny. He knows everything, finds out the other. Master Li and Lu Yu together make a great combination of brain and brawn. Duke of Ch'in : Every person who likes a tough and uncompromising badass villain will love this avaricious and tyrannical Duke of Ch'in. He can read minds and control the creatures that lurk in the dark bowels of the earth. He is difficult to defeat and has everything planned to make himself immortal. The book is set in a fantastical version of imperial China. It draws on and reinvents the traditional tale of The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd and other myths, poems and incidents from Chinese history. The real story of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl is referenced at the end of the book. [Source : Wikipedia] This book tells a lot about the tradition and beliefs of China. The book is set in a fictional Chinese village and the tale weaved is definitely worth reading!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    The opening chapters of this book are very good, and set up high expectations for the rest of the story. The author invokes mythology, history and superstition, and infuses them into the affairs of a small Chinese village. The action begins when the children of Ku-Fu fall into a mysterious death-like coma. The hero, Number Ten Ox, hires the sage Li Kao, and together the two set off on a quest to find the Great Root of Power, which is the only known cure. The end is wonderful, surprising and myth The opening chapters of this book are very good, and set up high expectations for the rest of the story. The author invokes mythology, history and superstition, and infuses them into the affairs of a small Chinese village. The action begins when the children of Ku-Fu fall into a mysterious death-like coma. The hero, Number Ten Ox, hires the sage Li Kao, and together the two set off on a quest to find the Great Root of Power, which is the only known cure. The end is wonderful, surprising and mythical. There is a twist, a mystery is solved which turns out to be much more than the original mystery, heaven itself is happy, and loose ends are tied up in a satisfying manner. So then, why only three stars? Because honestly, aside from the first few chapters and the last few, the rest of the book is riddled with flaws - so many, in fact, that I almost gave up on it. For one thing, there turns out to be not one quest, but a tedious succession of them, into dark labyrinths from which there is no escape, etc., etc. Throughout the many adventures, the protagonist tends to be passive, allowing himself to be led by Li Kao, who is clever but not really likable. There is not a realistically-drawn female character in the book, and the humor is tasteless and sometimes mean. All of these things spoiled my enjoyment of the book. However, I am glad that I finished it, since the reward at the end was worth it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    It's not often that you read a book and it immediately jumps up into your "Best Books Ever" list. Usually it takes some time and reflection, careful thought about the book's characters, themes and message. Perhaps a re-read would be in order, and then, after some consideration, you might say, "Yeah. I think this is a really, really good book that I want everyone else to read." I think I hit that somewhere around page 182. This is, as the cover tells us, a novel of "An ancient China that never was. It's not often that you read a book and it immediately jumps up into your "Best Books Ever" list. Usually it takes some time and reflection, careful thought about the book's characters, themes and message. Perhaps a re-read would be in order, and then, after some consideration, you might say, "Yeah. I think this is a really, really good book that I want everyone else to read." I think I hit that somewhere around page 182. This is, as the cover tells us, a novel of "An ancient China that never was." It's set in the long-ago, indeterminate past (of which China has so very much), and starts off in a small village with an unusual history. The village of Ku-Fu, the story goes, was home to a section of the Great Wall, commissioned by the Emperor of China many centuries ago. This would not in itself be notable, except that it was built 122 miles south of the rest of the wall, thus serving no real purpose whatsoever. The general in charge was, he maintains, given the orders by the Emperor of Heaven himself, a story which held no sway with the more earthly Emperor who was ready to execute him. A more believable story was produced - that a great dragon had rested itself on that part of the wall, thus moving it, and it shouldn't be tampered with. And so the village of Ku-Fu became home to what was known as The Dragon's Pillow, a place that would one day loom large in the history of not only the village, but all of China. It is a peaceful village with the usual colorful characters that you get in such a place, such as the terrible partners Pawnbroker Fang and Ma the Grub, two greedy and unscrupulous men who hold the economic life of the village in their hands. When their misdeeds go too far, resulting in the horrible poisoning of many of the village's children, the story's narrator, Number Ten Ox (whose given name is Lu Yu, but he would not want to be confused with the famous author of The Classic of Tea) is tasked to bring a wise man from the city to diagnose the problem and find a solution. Out of the many wise men, Ox finds Li Kao, a cynical, world-weary curmudgeon with, as he so often tells us, a slight flaw in his character. Together, Ox and Li Kao must travel the length and breadth of China to find the Great Root - a ginseng root that was kept by the mythical Princess of Birds, and whose healing properties are all that stand between the children of Ku-Fu and certain death. Along the way, they must travel terrible labyrinths, fight unimaginable monsters, battle against an immortal evil, bring peace to restless ghosts and solve the greatest mystery in the history of China - what happened to the Princess of Birds, beloved of the Star Shepherd, Prince of Heaven. There is just so much to recommend this book, I don't even know where to start. For one, it's a lot of fun to read. The person who recommended it to me did so on the reasonable assumption that, since I like Terry Pratchett so much, I would probably like this book as well. And that was a very good assumption - there is a certain similarity between the two. Hughart uses humor very deftly, keeping the characters alive and interesting through even the most dangerous of times. Where Pratchett's humor often feels like literary slapstick, however, Hughart's is a bit more subtle. The characters are funny, yes, but the book was not written to make you laugh. It was written so that the reader would have a good time reading a story well-told. And what a story it was. It begins with a fairly straightforward quest - a search for the Great Ginseng Root to cure the children of Ku-Fu - and turns into something so much larger than that. As the evil Duke of Ch'in says, they're on the right quest, but for all the wrong reasons, a cryptic statement that takes a while to make sense. The scope of the story gets bigger and bigger as it goes on, and you realize that the pieces for this quest were put into place hundreds, if not thousands of years before the story actually started. The history of China is on display here, if somewhat distorted for the purposes of entertainment. Hughart spent time living in the Far East and gained a healthy respect for its long and often unbelievable history and culture. The book includes elements of China's history of inventiveness and ingenuity, as well as cultural myths that extend beyond its borders. The characters themselves are wonderful, too. Number Ten Ox is an earnest, strong, well-meaning young man who has one goal in mind- save the children of his village. Li Kao is a devious old man who tends to use his wisdom and quick thinking for more nefarious purposes - thus the slight flaw in his character. There are a lot of notable minor characters as well, including Pawnbroker Fang and Ma the Grub, who somehow manage to turn up all through the story, always being chased by the people they've cheated. The Duke of Ch'in is a terrifying figure, Henpecked Ho is comically dark, and Miser Shen starts off utterly unlikable, but if there's one character in the story that forces you to put down the book for a few minutes and gather your thoughts, it is he. It's a moving tale of hope and perseverance and the power of myth. It's a story about the need for humanity to temper desire and what happens when we let our lives be governed by fear and greed. It's about love and justice, revenge and history. It's a book that almost immediately earned my respect and admiration, and that's pretty hard to do. So go get it. Block out some time when you can sit and fall into the story and really get absorbed in it, because let me promise you - it will be well worth it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anoop Pai B

    Every now and then one must let go of the apprehension of wandering into the unknown realms, straying away from the routine and the familiar to head into an unknown and unchartered territory, for you may end up finding the treasure at the end of the rainbow or even better, a book like Bridge of Birds. The children of a village aged between 8 and 13 are mysteriously poisoned leaving the villagers in a state of shock and worry. The Abbott asks Number Ten Ox( named so because he is the tenth child t Every now and then one must let go of the apprehension of wandering into the unknown realms, straying away from the routine and the familiar to head into an unknown and unchartered territory, for you may end up finding the treasure at the end of the rainbow or even better, a book like Bridge of Birds. The children of a village aged between 8 and 13 are mysteriously poisoned leaving the villagers in a state of shock and worry. The Abbott asks Number Ten Ox( named so because he is the tenth child to his parents and is strong as an ox) to bring a wise person for help and Number Ten Ox finds Master Li, a old man with a slight flaw in his character. Master Li inspects the situation and proclaims that only "the great root of power" can heal the kids. And then begins the adventure! Bridge of birds is a fascinating novel with a host of memorable characters. It is a novel containing stories within story. It is a book full of mystery which is no less thrilling than the best thriller while also being no less entertaining than the most entertaining book. The story which seems to meander without any particular direction in a confusion like a vagabond escaping his own shadow. But nothing is as it seems as seen by Master Li and Number Ten Ox. I purchased this book only because of the unique name of the trilogy which fascinated me. And when I started reading the book, the narration hypnotised me and it also transformed me as a kid listening to stories from my grandmother. And I am sure it will be the same with you. It is a very fresh novel and though it may not be a tome like many other fantasy novels, it is better than most of them.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    Executive Summary: This book provides a good mix of adventure and humor with a bit of action and mystery thrown in for good measure. It's only about 250 pages, so it makes for a quick read once you get into it. Highly recommend. Full Review This one got on my radar thanks to Sword & Laser from one of Aaron's great white boards. It got lost on my ever-growing to read list, until the club decided to make the February pick. Normally I try to time things so I can read the club picks at the beginnin Executive Summary: This book provides a good mix of adventure and humor with a bit of action and mystery thrown in for good measure. It's only about 250 pages, so it makes for a quick read once you get into it. Highly recommend. Full Review This one got on my radar thanks to Sword & Laser from one of Aaron's great white boards. It got lost on my ever-growing to read list, until the club decided to make the February pick. Normally I try to time things so I can read the club picks at the beginning of the month, but that wasn't going to work out this time, so I opted to read it early rather than later. This books starts off a bit slow. There is a lot of flowery descriptive language in the first chapter and I just wasn't digging it. I'd almost say you could skip the first chapter, but it explains a few things that are important later in the story. By chapter 2 though, the story had already started grabbing my interest. Master Li comes off a bit like a cartoon character to me, but I really enjoy him, despite the slight flaw in his character. Master Li and Number Ten Ox go on increasingly dangerous adventures in the hopes of saving the children of Ox's town. It seems like Master Li has ever increasingly zany schemes to match the danger. I thought that everything is tied together nicely in the end. I'm really looking forward to checking out the other two books in the series, as I purchased all 3 in the eBook omnibus.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dawn C

    This is a difficult one to both rate and form an opinion on. It reads mostly like a cartoon, where everything that happens is completely unlikely and the things our heroes do and survive are completely unrealistic. The story itself is bonkers and told like an adventure with obstacles the main characters have to face and puzzles they have to solve. It's full of deus ex machina, people they need magially happen to be there, and things they need they have right at hand. Young Ox, one of the protago This is a difficult one to both rate and form an opinion on. It reads mostly like a cartoon, where everything that happens is completely unlikely and the things our heroes do and survive are completely unrealistic. The story itself is bonkers and told like an adventure with obstacles the main characters have to face and puzzles they have to solve. It's full of deus ex machina, people they need magially happen to be there, and things they need they have right at hand. Young Ox, one of the protagonists, can run across half of China carrying an old man on his back like a horse and not break a sweat. They can survive falls from cliffs, lava, drowning, flying and an abundance of other craziness. It's farcical with slapstick humor all around. It's entirely consistently written, it's all on purpose, and absolutely not my cup of tea. However, the last 30 pages made reading it worth it all, in fact it got me so good I got goosebumps. That reveal was perfectly delivered and worth 4 ⭐️ in and of itself, but the rest of the book is a 2 for me, so I will park it here in the neutral zone at 3.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Esme

    I really enjoyed this change of pace. I've been reading a ton of grim dark recently, Abercrombie, Weeks, Jeminsin, and I was getting a little worn down with it. This book was surprisingly humorous, and I liked the style of writing. It's set in medieval China, which is a setting I've never read before personally in fantasy - so that was a really nice change as well, but I can't say how "historically accurate" it was because I have no idea. The main plot was about finding a cure for a disease that I really enjoyed this change of pace. I've been reading a ton of grim dark recently, Abercrombie, Weeks, Jeminsin, and I was getting a little worn down with it. This book was surprisingly humorous, and I liked the style of writing. It's set in medieval China, which is a setting I've never read before personally in fantasy - so that was a really nice change as well, but I can't say how "historically accurate" it was because I have no idea. The main plot was about finding a cure for a disease that's swept through and killed the silk worms, and put young children into comas. It's a trilogy, and I totally intend on reading the next two books I enjoyed this one so much. I w0uld have given a 4.25 if I was allowed to be more accurate!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Psychophant

    This is truly a book about a China that never was, and probably should have been. Hughart catches perfectly the folk story style while also giving us a complex and engrossing story, through a fantastical world enhanced by all those close contacts with real world history. The main characters are very likable, the plot does not lose track of itself despite the sharp turns, and it is wonderful how "a small character flaw" can make someone interesting. It is read in a breeze, which is also an importan This is truly a book about a China that never was, and probably should have been. Hughart catches perfectly the folk story style while also giving us a complex and engrossing story, through a fantastical world enhanced by all those close contacts with real world history. The main characters are very likable, the plot does not lose track of itself despite the sharp turns, and it is wonderful how "a small character flaw" can make someone interesting. It is read in a breeze, which is also an important part of enjoying a book. Before you realize it the story is over, it is time to return to the current reality, and you just want a little more of Li Kao and Number Ten Ox.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Peat

    I brought this book about this time last year; this is now my fourth read of it. Its a wonderfully complete book; it makes you guess, makes you laugh, makes you cheer, makes you sad. The voice is wonderful although not one for people addicted to 'show, don't tell' or very modern prose. The finest thing about this book is Master Li, who is the impossibly wise and completely irreverent mentor we'd all pick if we were stuck in a fantasy world... or any world really. Such a shame we don't have more I brought this book about this time last year; this is now my fourth read of it. Its a wonderfully complete book; it makes you guess, makes you laugh, makes you cheer, makes you sad. The voice is wonderful although not one for people addicted to 'show, don't tell' or very modern prose. The finest thing about this book is Master Li, who is the impossibly wise and completely irreverent mentor we'd all pick if we were stuck in a fantasy world... or any world really. Such a shame we don't have more books featuring him. To steal Anne McCaffrey's quote for this - Master Li might have a slight flaw in his character, but this book has none.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Wow. This book lives up to the hype. It is wonderful. Hughart takes the reader to a place and time that never truly was, but is wonderful and real. The book is wonderful, its brillant, its Chaucerian. Bridge of Birds has an controling quest, but it is told in three parts, each part forming part of the quest. While the story is told in fable form, the two central characters are never protrayed as simply types. Number Ten Ox is far deeper than he first seems, than even he himselfs think he is, and Wow. This book lives up to the hype. It is wonderful. Hughart takes the reader to a place and time that never truly was, but is wonderful and real. The book is wonderful, its brillant, its Chaucerian. Bridge of Birds has an controling quest, but it is told in three parts, each part forming part of the quest. While the story is told in fable form, the two central characters are never protrayed as simply types. Number Ten Ox is far deeper than he first seems, than even he himselfs think he is, and Li Kao is not just simplely an old wise drunk. Hughart has the talent to make the reader laugh on one hand and then pages later make the reader weep as he is telling the story of the weeping maiden or Master Shen. Characters who first seem to be simply types are revealed to be far more than that. The ending of the book is absolute poetry. Stop reading this review and go read the book. It's wonderful.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jenne

    Perhaps there's a slight flaw in my character, but I only liked this book, I didn't love it. I felt like the same thing kept happening over and over. One time I lost my bookmark and accidentally reread 3 chapters without realizing. Still, it was entertaining. Kind of like Indiana Jones Part 47: The One With the Old Chinese Guy. Perhaps there's a slight flaw in my character, but I only liked this book, I didn't love it. I felt like the same thing kept happening over and over. One time I lost my bookmark and accidentally reread 3 chapters without realizing. Still, it was entertaining. Kind of like Indiana Jones Part 47: The One With the Old Chinese Guy.

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