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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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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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I am Master Li's number one fan. Unabashedly, wholeheartedly, and sincerely. There is not another book on this planet that moves me -- in all directions -- as this one.
I found this book right after it was published when a friend sent it to me and insisted that I read it. From the very first line, I was hooked.
I've since read the other two Master Li tales and loved, them, but not like "BoB." The story never lets me down, despite my repeated readings.
I have all three stories in hardback and my copy of "BoB" has been signed by the very gracious Hughart himself. (He's in Yahoo! People Find in Tucson, AZ)
I'm interested in mounting an email campaign to paperback publishers for "More Master Li," as I believe there are enough of the faithful out here in cyberspace to support more stories.
If you want the best that writing has to offer, read this book...share it with your friends...re-read it and continue to share it with your friends. You -- and they -- will be richer for it!
One last wish...may you always know someone with a slight flaw in their character!
Buy this book!
Whatever the case, this book is a delight. The story is peppered with clever little details, lighthearted capers, clever cons, and genuinely touching subplots, not to mention an extraordinarily clever main plot line. Do yourself a favor and go buy a copy at once!
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.