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Customer Review

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? Will they discover the real reason for everything that has happened to them? Will they find the heart of the 'Great Root of Power' (boom!) and save the children of Ku-fu? Of course, but how they do it will mystify and dazzle you. If Barry Hughart has borrowed a plot device from Ernest Bramah, he has made it uniquely his own. His language is slightly more modern, and he has traded some irony for sarcasm and slapstick, but the true magic, a fantasy world peopled by countless characters, each more gemlike than the last, set in a work that shines with equal magic. If you like well wrought, tongue in cheek fantasy, put 'Bridge of Birds' on the top of your reading list. And don't forget to look for the sequels.
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