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The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox #1-3)

4.35  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,197 Ratings  ·  123 Reviews
When I got out of Andover in the 1950s I suffered from fairly severe depression, but this was back when the only such term recognized by the medical profession was “depressive” following “manic” which was one bad gig until some genius renamed it “bipolar disorder” and after that it couldn’t harm a fly. Since I wasn’t lucky enough to qualify for manic and clinical depressio ...more
Kindle Edition, 652 pages
Published August 22nd 2011 by Subterranian Press (first published January 1st 1996)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,719)
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Alice Bentley
Dec 12, 2010 Alice Bentley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved these books so much that I published this one.

All three novels concern the same two primary characters, but can be read completely independently. Bridge of Birds, the first of the three, is such a just generally appealing and interesting novel that I sold it "satisfaction guaranteed" at my bookshop. You don't care for it? Bring it back for a full refund. In 16 years and over 1,500 copies of the paperback sold, I had two people take me up on it. (And one of them said he did kinda like it,
Dan Schwent
Apr 04, 2008 Dan Schwent rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: funny
The only complaint I have about this volume of Barry Hughart books is that Hughart never wrote any more.

I bought The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox from the Science Fiction Book club, largely because of the name. If you're into Princess Bride-style humor and dungeon crawls, these are the books for you.
Jun 02, 2007 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those in love with exotic fantasy
This book is a set of three novels, so it's hefty. But it's a delight to read, set in a magical China of long ago. The Chronicals are presented in first person by Number Ten Ox, a large and self-deprecating accolyte of Master Li, who has a slight flaw in his character (Master Li is an inverterate drunk, murderer, and thief). Together they right wrongs, fight evil, poison, stab, and deviously sprint their way through many adventures. As humble as Number Ten Ox presents himself, he still seems to ...more
Apr 25, 2009 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chronicles is a monster of a book. It's really a trilogy: three relatively short novels, originally published separately but collected in this edition. And it probably should be read as three individual works. All of these works weave together Chinese literature, philosphy, and folktales in fascinating tales--even going back to the "aboriginal" inhabitants of China, and their forgotten religions. (I know little about Chinese mythology, so this may be fictitious). If all you know about Chinese my ...more
Mar 30, 2012 Peter rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
It is hard to say what made me read this trilogy (in one volume) every night way beyond the time I was sleepy. The books are hardly classic thriller page turners. The main characters don't immediately strike you as deep or well-developed, on the opposite: they appear almost as cartoon characters, exaggerated to a ridiculous degree. And if you've been bored to death by the singing and poetry in Tolkien J.R.R.'s books, well, you stumble across a lot of poems, songs and random side-notes in these s ...more
Jan 03, 2014 Jenn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The only thing that I dislike about these books is that there aren't any more of them! Why aren't there more of them? I love these books SO MUCH - how can I explain? First of all, I love stories that take place in ancient China and, especially, those that incorporate the myths, legends, and deities of ancient China. The main characters of Li Kao (who has a slight flaw in his character! ;)) and Number Ten Ox (who is a pure soul, even though he has an enormous weakness for the ladies). I don't jus ...more
Feb 09, 2015 Phil rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Bridge of Birds - 5 Stars

Set in mythic China, Bridge of Birds is a picaresque fable with similarities to The Princess Bride, the Sherlock Holmes stories, and Jack Vance's tales of Cugel the Clever. While it starts off with a rather simple premise--involving a search for a magical medicine for afflicted village children--the book's final chapters reveal that the entire story was no simple MacGuffin fetch quest, but in reality something far more original and carefully constructed.

All of Hughart's
Dec 30, 2014 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On the one hand, it feels very 80s fantasy framed in uncomfortable Orientalism. I'm assured it's an affectionate and well-researched approach, and it is really nice to read a fantasy set somewhere other than Europe or Europe-ish. But there are definitely elements that have been stretched to the breaking point to fit a Western framework-- with a style of narration that comes off like Aravis and Lasaraleen in The Horse and His Boy-- and I'd be interested to hear how others feel about the appropria ...more
David Yoon
A nice twist on the usual sword and sorcery fantasy trope. This time Middle Earth makes way for ancient China. Instead of orcs, elves and trolls we get mandarins, bonzes and ginseng.

Li Kao is an ancient scholar with "a slight flaw in his character" accompanied by Number Ten Ox, his "esteemed former client and current assistant".

From there it's a caper meets Sherlock Holmes with a supernatural thriller bent and a bit of Hope and Crosby roadtrip thrown in for good measure.

Bridge of Birds gets a
Will Ransohoff
This was such a delightfully whimsically fun book. It is a peasant's memoirs of his travels with an elderly and frequently drunk seeker of truth, set in a neo-Confucian (900-1100 AD?) China where the country's gods and myths and folk beliefs are all very real.

After reading so much fantasy based on Tolkienisms and European backdrops, the setting was incredibly refreshing. It felt a little uncomfortable sometimes when characters occasionally bordered on caricatures, but you can tell that Hughart h
Mar 22, 2015 John rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf-fantasy
I thought these were hilarious when they first came out, and upon re-reading hold up nicely. Number Ten Ox is endowed with both brawn and brains (or at least, he's a quick learner), and though the author pokes vicious fun at traditional Chinese story tropes he steers clear of racial stereotypes. I at least didn't think the satire was too heavy handed--at least in the first volume. In the others it did seem to become too much of a good thing, and I don't think you'll miss anything significant by ...more
Riju Ganguly
Jun 16, 2011 Riju Ganguly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The adventures of Master Li Kao and Number Ten Ox described here are absolute jewels that make you thirsty for more. As the whole thing, the stories as well as the pure fun that can be derived from reading them, exceeds our capacity (severely restricted by present-day boring stuff presented in the garb of 'fantasy') for either, bitter disappointments arise in our mind on three counts:
1. Thanks to the inept publishers in 1980-s, this series has come to an unfortunate halt, with only 3 'chronicles
Katharine Kimbriel
Sep 13, 2011 Katharine Kimbriel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Adventurous fantasy lovers, lovers of sly humor in fantasy
Shelves: fantasy, classic
If you've never read the adventures of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, chronicled in the fantasy novels Bridge of Birds, The Story of the Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen, you've missed one of my favorite series of books in all of fantasy. They take place in "a China that never was," and Barry Hughart was inspired to write them when he discovered that some gods and goddesses of ancient China actually were born in stories.

Subterranean Press has released a new compilation of the three books, The Ch
John Fiala
Apr 22, 2012 John Fiala rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, humor, adventure
This is some really good stuff here. Barry Hughart's version of China is amusing, adventurous, entertaining, occasionally sexy, and often romantic (in the old sense, not in the kissy kissy love love style). I think of the three books, I'm most satisfied with Bridge of Birds, partially because it's the first and thus everything was fresh and new, but also because it just seemed to hang together better. Barry Hughart says he's not writing any more of these books because he was afraid they would fa ...more
Feb 11, 2012 Ccaywood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought the first was the best, but all three were charming and memorable. The Bridge of Birds is based on a Chinese myth about the stars that is still celebrated. The character of Master Li is masterful and Number Ten Ox makes an excellent Watson to Li's Holmes. The story is a mystery within another mystery that combines a treasure hunt with the unmasking of a terrible monster.And it is laugh-out-loud funny. Do be aware, however, that they are set in a storyteller's China, not reality. Bridge ...more
May 08, 2015 EggSalad rated it really liked it
Rollicking is the best word I can think of to describe this book. It's crammed to the gills with action and tongue in cheek humor. It's not deep, but it is an very enjoyable read if you are in the mood for something light.
Jul 05, 2012 Tasula rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This very large book is comprised of 3 novellas. I managed to read only the first, Bridge of Birds. I enjoyed the world it was set in, liked many of the characters, hated (as we were meant to) some other characters, watched while some despicable characters changed, and wondered how it would all tie together. Well it did, and quite nicely. I felt this was a fairly innocent book (despite the gruesome tortures and murders, and the sexual escapades)and if I had to describe it in just a few words wou ...more
Mar 03, 2013 Mikaela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy-sci-fi
This was an interesting reading experience. I only read the first story and while think I liked it I don't really feel compelled to read the other ones. I appreciate what the author does and there were moments where I felt really engrossed but for the majority of the time I felt academically detached. It reminded me of Candide which is not a bad thing. I think if I do get a chance to read the other stories I will enjoy them more as I will be more familiar with the style and characters but I'm no ...more
Jun 16, 2012 Dan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: signal
Master Li and Number Ten Ox wander ancient China having adventures. Terms such as "rollicking" may apply.

I can see why people like this series, but it never quite clicked for me. Part of it may have been Ox's voice, which is fittingly stolid but doesn't quite convey excitement. Another part may have been the sheer implausibility of the adventures, which -- I mean, points for creativity, but suspension of disbelief was really difficult.
Sep 07, 2010 Jetamors rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
To be honest, I felt that this series got worse as it went along, which makes it somewhat hard to rate the compilation. Bridge of Birds was fantastic, easily a five-star book. The Story of the Stone didn't come together quite as well, IMHO, but it still had many elements I enjoyed. And I found Eight Skilled Gentlemen generally uninteresting, other than the character of Hosteler Tu.
Jan 16, 2013 Stuart rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining historical fantasies set in a magical-realist 7th century China. Four stars for the first book, Bridge of the Birds, which introduces the great character of Master Li, a centenarian scholar with "a flaw in his character." The other two books in this anthology don't quite live up to the promise of the first, but overall it's quite diverting.
Jun 13, 2015 Mariano rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Definetely not my cup of tea. And I had such high hopes for this that it hurts. Besides, almost every reviewer here seems to just love this book.

I've read only the first part of the Chronicles, Bridge of Birds, and finishing it was almost a chore (I hate leaving books unfinished). I don't think I'll be reading the other two anytime soon, specially considering that everyone agree that they are not as good as the first one. And I didn't like the first one, so...

I think my problem with Bridge of Bi
Nov 08, 2015 Jjlupa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an omnibus edition, and very large. Of the 3 books, the first was by far my favorite, but they all had a uniquely magical setting, and were executed terrifically.

Strongly recommended, at least for the first book.
Sep 07, 2015 B A rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I felt like this was a second- or third-rate fantasy book. Maybe I started reading the book with overly high expectations, but I was pretty disappointed. All three stories follow almost the exact same formula, with shallow, cardboard-cutout characters in shallow, cardboard-cutout settings. The writing is amateurish. I felt like I was reading a late-night adult cartoon show that had been put into book form. If you go into reading the book with that expectation, then you will probably enjoy it a l ...more
Jun 20, 2013 Shaz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I've ever read. A Taoist fantasy novel reminiscent of Journey To The West. Amazing.
Oct 03, 2015 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Co-worker recommended as a good airplane read... he was right... an amusing little romp.
Mar 21, 2015 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What did I just read?! My best attempt at a synopsis is that this is a sherlock holmes style adventure story set in a mythopoetic fantasy vision of ancient china, and that they were as fun as that sounds. I did have some quibbles - I wished for better women characters and I'm still deciding on how I feel about the way China was portrayed (by a white dude - although knowing that the textual references were mostly all genuine helps). Still these were super creative and clearly a labor of love. Mas ...more
Jul 23, 2012 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These are my favorite fantasy novels ever. Simply perfect.
Christopher Tedor
These books are beyond exceptional and it's a crime that we only have this small output that Mr. Hughart has shared with us. I do not want to give any specifics in this review but the writing is superb and the world is fully realized throughout the series. Mr. Hughart displays a deep knowledge of Chinese culture and the plot twists are very natural and very satisfying.

The interactions between Master Li and Number Ten Ox are hilarious throughout and there hasn't ever been a character as much of
Jeff Powanda
Sep 10, 2015 Jeff Powanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This anthology of Hughart's three celebrated fantasy novels about "an ancient China that never was" is a lot of fun. If you love Chinese folklore and myth, fast-paced mysteries, slapstick comedy, thrilling chases, graphic violence, occasionally charming aphorisms, brilliant sarcasm, then this series will delight you. The first two books, "Bridge of Birds" and "The Story of the Stone," are fantastic, while the third book, "Eight Skilled Gentlemen," falls slightly below the high mark set by the ea ...more
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Dawnrise: * Master Li: Check in and progress! 19 9 Oct 03, 2014 11:16AM  
Dawnrise: Master Li: Wrap-Up! 9 7 Oct 01, 2014 09:52AM  
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Dawnrise: The French book covers are awesome. 4 6 Aug 13, 2014 07:00PM  
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Hughart was educated at Phillips Academy (Andover). He attended Columbia University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in 1956.
Upon his graduation from Columbia, Hughart joined the United States Air Force and served from 1956 to 1960 where he was involved in laying mines in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. During Hughart's military service he began to develop his lifelong interest in China that l
More about Barry Hughart...

Other Books in the Series

The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox (3 books)
  • Bridge of Birds (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, #1)
  • The Story of the Stone (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox #2)
  • Eight Skilled Gentlemen (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox #3)

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“Of course there is a slight chance that somebody might want to give the Celestial Bookmaker a heart attack.” 1 likes
“once there was a great king who gazed down from a tall tower upon a gardener who sang as he worked, and the king cried, ‘Ah, to have a life of no cares! If only I could be that gardener.’ And the voice of the August Personage of Jade reached out from Heaven and said, ‘It shall be so,’ and lo, the king was a gardener singing in the sun. In time the sun grew hot and the gardener stopped singing, and a fine dark cloud brought coolness and then drifted away, and it was hot again and much work remained, and the gardener cried, ‘Ah, to carry coolness wherever I go and have no cares! If only I could be that cloud.’ And the voice of the August Personage reached out from Heaven and said, ‘It shall be so,’ and lo, the gardener was a cloud drifting across the sky. And the wind blew and the sky grew cold, and the cloud would have liked to go behind the shelter of a hill, but it could only go where the wind took it, and no matter how hard it tried to go this way the wind took it that way, and above the cloud was the bright sun. ‘Ah, to fly through wind and be warm and have no cares! If only I could be the sun,’ cried the cloud, and the voice of the August Personage of Jade reached out from Heaven and said, ‘It shall be so,’ and lo, he was the sun. It was very grand to be the sun, and he delighted in the work of sending down rays to warm some things and burn others, but it was like wearing a suit made of fire and he began to bake like bread. Above him the cool stars that were gods were sparkling in safety and serenity and the sun cried, ‘Ah, to be divine and free from care! If only I could be a god.’ And the voice of the August Personage of Jade reached out from Heaven and said, ‘It shall be so,’ and lo, he was a god, and he was beginning his third century of combat with the Stone Monkey, which had just transformed itself into a monster a hundred thousand feet tall and was wielding a trident made from the triple peaks of Mount Hua, and when he wasn’t dodging blows he could see the peaceful green earth down below him, and the god cried, ‘Ah, if only I could be a man who was safe and secure and had no cares!’ And the voice of the August Personage of Jade reached out from Heaven and said, ‘It shall be so.’ And lo, he was a king who was gazing down from a tall tower upon a gardener who sang as he worked.” 0 likes
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