Bridge of Birds Mass Market Paperback – 12 Apr 1985
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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....
About the Author
Barry Hughart is a widely acclaimed writer whose first novel, Bridge of Birds, won the World Fantasy Award for best novel. The other novels in The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox include The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen.
Top customer reviews
The story starts with the children in the little village all falling deathly ill, and a desparate search to find the cause and cure. With wonderful scams and fantastic escapes our odd heros, wily old Likao (who has a slight flaw in his character) and his giant, but innocent stooge, Number 10 Ox, journey across the land and into dreadful perils to find the cure.
Can they save the sleeping children? Of course; but not without danger, hilarity,and fantastic challenges. For the intellectual who is in touch with their inner child.
In fact it's probably my favourite work of fantasy fiction ever and I've read a great many books of the genre, to the point where it seems that they all become a bit of a muchness or all very similar. Such an accusation could never be levelled at this little gem. In fact it's one of those books that seems too short, you want the tale to continue. Barry Hughart did another couple of books after this about Number Ten Ox and Li Kao which are both worth tracking down, before becoming disillusioned with the world of publishing and retired from writing, but at least he left us his three books the jewel being the Bridge of Birds itself.
Hughart's tale of a quest to find a cure surpasses anything in the fantasy genre. A group of village children, limited in age range, has been struck down by a plague. "How can a plague count?" asks the local abbot. The children aren't dead, but in a coma. Perhaps a knowledgeable man would know of a cure. Lu Yu, "Number Ten Ox", the strong tenth son of a peasant, is sent to find such a sage. He turns up Li Kao, a venerable sage "with a slight flaw in his character". We think the "slight flaw" is his thirst for wine, but that proves too simple.
Number Ten Ox carries Li Kao to various places in China seeking the Great Root of Power - a ginseng root endowed with great curative traits. Along the way, the duo encounter the Ancestress, an immense woman of immense powers of her own. They deal with the mind-reading Duke of Ch'in, whose name was adopted by the West to describe all of China. Some lesser characters, Miser Chen, Henpecked Ho, and Doctor Death make their appearances, seemingly transitory. And Number Ten Ox falls in love. He adores the lady Lotus Cloud who has a bizarre preference for lovers that provide her with jade and pearls.
Through all the adventures, no few of which are more than life-threatening, Number Ten Ox carries the image of the suffering children in his mind. It would be simple for him to turn away from the memory of their sleeping figures, but Ox is true to the quest. So long as he maintains his desire to cure them, Li Kao is retained to help. But it's far from clear which is driving which, since the Venerable Sage has developed his own quest - what is the meaning of a child's game verse? How does it affect all of China? Li Kao's drive for answers readily equals Ox's search for a cure for the plague.
Hughart's stylistic quirks and sinuous plotting twists keeps this book a enchanting read. He places his protagonists in various quandaries, confronting them with dangers and delights. Li Kao's wine-sodden brain should leave him helpless, but he contrives to extricate the pair with penetrating analyses of each threat. At the end, when he must unravel the most fundamental mystery, what The Bridge of Birds is, he's more concerned with why he couldn't work out the solution sooner. But if he had, there wouldn't be a fine 278 page sequence to enjoy! [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
* with apologies and thanks to Janet Turner Hospital
If you're looking to use this story as a reference to Chinese mythos, you may well be wasting your time; there are elements of the mythology here but they've been used as a basis rather than adhered to stringently. They give the story its reason to be though.
This is ostensibly a love story, written with a huge sense of humour and tongue in cheek at the amount of violence the characters use to achieve their ends. Its a fantasy story and needs to be taken as such; read it without a sense of humour and you will be disappointed. There's a quiet joy involved in reading this book. It's total escapism from cover to cover, and one of those stories that you'll come back to when you're feeling low or want to run away from reality for a while.
I've yet to read the sequels as I didn't know they existed till I came here to replaced my much-loved but lost copy of this book. I'm over-joyed that there are two more Master Li books for me to find, and gutted to know that the author felt he'd taken the characters as far as he could with this trilogy. I'm sure he ended on a high though.
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