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Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was Mass Market Paperback – April 12, 1985

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Editorial Reviews Review

Bridge of Birds is a lyrical fantasy novel. Set in "an Ancient China that never was", it stands with The Princess Bride and The Last Unicorn as a fairy tale for all ages, by turns incredibly funny and deeply touching. It won the World Fantasy Award in 1985, and Hughart produced two sequels: The Story of the Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen. All present the adventures of Master Kao Li, a scholar with "a slight flaw in [his] character", and Lu Yu, usually called Number Ten Ox, his sidekick and the story's narrator. Number Ten Ox is strong, trusting, and pure of heart; Master Li once sold an emperor shares in a mustard mine, because "I was trying to win a bet concerning the intelligence of emperors."

Number Ten Ox comes from a village in which the children have been struck by a mysterious illness. He recruits Master Li to find the cure and comes along to provide muscle. They seek a mysterious Great Root of Power, which may be a form of ginseng. Of course, nothing turns out to be as simple as it seems; great wrongs must be avenged and lovers separated must be reunited, from the most humble to the highest. And even in the midst of cosmic glory, Pawnbroker Fang and Ma the Grub are picking the pockets of their own lynch mob, who are frozen in awe and wonder. --Nona Vero

From the Inside Flap

When the children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox found master Li Kao. Together they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure, and together they discover adventure and legend, and the power of belief....

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey (April 12, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345321383
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345321381
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 1 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (233 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,918 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By James D. DeWitt VINE VOICE on June 8, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
This is truly an extraordinary book, every bit as good as most reviewers have found it. It is something between a fairy tale, a fantasy and an epic. The story has a timeless quality that would be amazing of itself, but even more impressively it serves as an introduction to Chinese myth. Astonishingly, this is the author's first book.
The characters are beautifully drawn. Even minor characters like Doctor Death, a Chinese alchemist who makes a brief appearance, is fully developed. The main characters - Number Ten Ox and Master Li - are as memorable as any characters in fantasy. All are lively, ironic and self-consistent.
The plot is a delightful rollercoaster ride, a quest within a quest, that will keep you guessing until the marvelous conclusion. It's a nearly flawless assemblage of many Chinese myths, some developed in depth and some only mentioned in passing. And much of it is Hughart's own invention.
The narrative is quite good, and Hughart does an especially good job of explaining literally dozens of instances of Chinese culture that will be completely new to most Western readers.
Some reviewers say they were put off by the story's many anachronisms. But Hughart doesn't pretend to be writing Chinese history or Chinese literature. Most readers don't know and don't care that events are out of sequence, or that myths have been distorted; those that do need to read the brief author's note that opens the book. I direct them specifically to the definition of "prolepsis" that appears there.
This is an absolutely terrific read. You don't need to know a thing about or even like Chinese myth or Chinese culture to delight in this tale. This is a delightful story that is exceptionally well told. Like any great work of fantasy, when you finish reading it, and have bowed with Number Ten Ox to the four corners of the world, the real world you return to will seem just a little dimmer than the brilliant vision Barry Hughart has created.
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56 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Marc Ruby™ HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 1, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Once upon a time, in post-war Britain, and author named Ernest Bramah started to write what became a slim handful of books set in an ancient, and mostly mythical, China. The hero of these books was Kai Lung, who is best described as a well meaning rascal. The stories tell of his (mis)adventures in love and the pursuit of sufficient cash. Bramah had a rare, polished style, full of irony and sly humor, which was the continual delight of his readers. In this reissue of the 1984 edition Barry Hughart ventured for the first time into a rarified world entirely reminiscent of Kai Lung's with equal aplomb and verve.
Instead of Kai Lung, our heroes are Yu Lu, commonly referred to as Number Ten Ox (to differentiate him from the eminent author of 'The Classic of Tea') and Li Kao, a great scholar with 'a slight flaw in his character.' Yu Lu plays the part of the brave, strong, and heroic youth. The perfect foil for Li Kao, who is sneaky, tricky and... Well, one of them has to be capable of quick thinking. Together they mount an impossible quest to save the lives of the children of Yu Lu's village. They have been treacherously poisoned by Ku poison, the only antidote for which is a 'Great Root of Power' (small drum roll).
Without hesitation our heroes head off into a completely mythical world, where they work schemes to steal the money they need to work the schemes that will yield up the magical ginseng. In doing so they must confront the incredibly gross Ancestress, who rules China from underneath, and the immensely greedy Duke of Ch'in. And bitter fate has arranged that the 'Great Root of Power' (yet another drum roll) has been cut into parts and spread about in fabulous treasuries, all guarded by awful monsters and inescapable traps.
Will they conquer the forces arrayed against them?
Read more ›
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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Michael Bulger on September 19, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"Bridge of Birds" is the most effective, most moving fantasy novel I have read since John Crowley's "Engine Summer." Set in (to use the publisher's blurb) "an ancient China that never was," this is at least on the surface the tale of Number Ten Ox, a young man from a rural village who sets out with Master Li, a scholar and sage with "a slight flaw in his character," on a quest for the "great root of power," the only medicine of sufficient potency to cure the village children of a case of ku poisoning. As the story unfolds and these two characters experience adventures enough to fill many novels (one can imagine Tor or some other publisher spinning out these yarns by the tens a la Conan if they got a hold of the publishing rights), their quest begins to intertwine with another one, relating to an ancient wrong done to a goddess.
More details would be superfluous, for there is simply no substitute for reading this book. The culture and characters described here are fully realized (writers of doorstop-sized fantasy novels, such as Robert Jordan, could take object lessons from Hughart in how to tell a large story succinctly), and the overall atmosphere that this novel achieves is that of the finest kind of fable, although I would not necessarily recommend it for young children. Hughart spices his narrative throughout with a liberal dose of humor; I found myself laughing aloud many times as I read along. If there is a flaw to be found here, I failed to see it. This is as good as fantasy gets--one of the few novels that merits the adjective "magical."
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