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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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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
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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 ›
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."
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Recommending it to all my friends. Buying multiple copies to give as gifts.Published 1 month ago by LT
Funny. Poignant. Great writing. This one made it onto my top shelf with Patrick Rothfuss, Robert Heinlein, and Steven Brust.Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
I bought this because of the reviews, which were very good. My expectations were high. The characters are colorful, the ancient pseudo Chinese background fun, the action fast... Read morePublished 3 months ago by David H. Eisenberg
In the village of Ku-fu in "an ancient China that never was," the silk harvest is the high point of the year, a combination of exhausting labor and ecstatic celebration. Read morePublished 6 months ago by jonathan briggs
I owe Mr. Hughart a huge debt of gratitude for making me fall in love with the China that might have been almost as much as the China that was and will be. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Jack E. Holt, III
This is a classic book. I rank it with other landmarks of speculative fiction. The book won the 1985 World Fantasy Award but it never gained mainstream traction, which is a shame. Read morePublished 7 months ago by nomadd
This book provided me a needed escape in the worst moments of personal tragedy, and was just as delightful on second and third readings. Read morePublished 8 months ago by otelit
Cannot recommend this highly enough. It's a mix of *Sherlock Holmes*, Chinese opera, Conan the Barbarian, and a big dash of humor. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Melissa Whitcomb