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Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, #1)
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Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox #1)

4.32 of 5 stars 4.32  ·  rating details  ·  5,907 ratings  ·  668 reviews
When the children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox sought a wiseman to save them. He found master Li Kao, a scholar with a slight flaw in his character. Together, they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure.

The quest led them to a host of truly memorable characters, multiple wonders, incredible adventures—and stra
Paperback, 278 pages
Published April 12th 1985 by Del Rey (first published 1984)
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Bridge of Birds by Barry HughartThe Twelve Kingdoms by Fuyumi OnoThe Tales of the Otori Trilogy by Lian HearnEon by Alison GoodmanThe Sandman by Neil Gaiman
Chinese and Japanese Fantasy
1st out of 151 books — 258 voters
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna ClarkeStardust by Neil GaimanSunshine by Robin McKinleyAnansi Boys by Neil GaimanHarry Potter Boxset by J.K. Rowling
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Winners
9th out of 65 books — 217 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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David Sven
This book is insane! Insanely fun that is. The humour really drives the plot forward with a gag a minute just rolling through one on top of the other. It was hilarious.

Set in Medieval China, the children of the village of Ku-Fu have been struck with a plague and pure hearted Number Ten Ox has been sent to find a wise man for help
“We need a wise man who can tell us how a plague can learn to count...”

Enter Master Li who repeatedly during the story introduces himself as
“My surname is Li and my pe
Mar 30, 2013 Jon added it
Recommended to Jon by: Alternative World Jan 2010 Selection
I can't think of a book quite like this. BoB is a light-hearted Chinese fantasy that is refreshing and completely enjoyable. Hughart makes the folktales and legends of ancient China seem utterly commonplace and this lends to the surreality of the story. After reading a number of very serious books, I really needed a novel like this!
Aug 07, 2012 David rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Loyola librarians; pretty much everyone else on the face of the earth
When I moonlighted at the late, lamented "The Stars Our Destination" between about 1996 and 2000, this was one of two books Alice Bentley stocked in vast quantity at deeply-discounted prices (the other being the store's namesake). When you love a book like Alice loved this one, you want to make sure everyone reads it, and she was its zealous advocate to our not-yet-enlightened clientele. It was the sort of book that disappoints you when you have to leave it at the end, like being exiled from a w ...more
Oct 15, 2013 Carol. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland
I'm stopping by to rate this beauty of a book. First, because it's clever, humorous and a welcome counterpoint to the general sourness that is GR these days. Second, because although it is relatively unknown, it should probably rank up near Princess Bride in adult folk-tale charm. Third, because Master Li's determined but cheerful subversiveness might just make him my new hero.

More at
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This was the February pick for the Sword and Laser, and I'm glad I read it. It feels more like a translation of a Chinese mythological tale than a novel written by a guy named Barry in 1984. That's a good thing, in my opinion. It has a lot of the humor found in bizarre characters and nonsensical cultural practices (because of an emperor's whim or fetishization, I am not saying that the Chinese are nonsensical) that I have seen in a lot of *actual* Chinese literature, and Japanese too. The fantas ...more
Veronica Belmont
I feel bad. I finished this book two days after we recorded the episode of Sword and Laser where we wrap it up (first time I haven't finished a book for the audio show). I blame Outlander for being too long.

Anyhow, I wish I had made it to the end, because coming away from the book now I feel much differently than I did at the 75% mark. If felt like the silliness that was almost a distraction for me came together in the end in a really beautiful and meaningful way.

You all said I'd feel different
I was really torn between 3 & 4 stars for "Bridge of Birds". I enjoyed the story and thought that the setting (ancient China) and characters were quite unique for fantasy. I loved that it was a done-in-one fantasy. I thought the prose was beautifully lyrical. It was funny in places. However, the story fell a little bit flat because it was told in the style of a myth or fable. The characters were more like caricatures than three-dimensional people. I didn't sense any great urgency to their ob ...more
3.5 stars. Best way I can think of to describe this book is that it is beautifully written "fable" set in China. It is clever, funny and very original. Recommended!!

Winner: Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (1986)
Winner: World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (1985)(tie)
Executive Summary: This book provides a good mix of adventure and humor with a bit of action and mystery thrown in for good measure. It's only about 250 pages, so it makes for a quick read once you get into it. Highly recommend.

Full Review
This one got on my radar thanks to Sword & Laser from one of Aaron's great white boards. It got lost on my ever-growing to read list, until the club decided to make the February pick.

Normally I try to time things so I can read the club picks at the beginni
The opening chapters of this book are very good, and set up high expectations for the rest of the story. The author invokes mythology, history and superstition, and infuses them into the affairs of a small Chinese village. The action begins when the children of Ku-Fu fall into a mysterious death-like coma. The hero, Number Ten Ox, hires the sage Li Kao, and together the two set off on a quest to find the Great Root of Power, which is the only known cure.

The end is wonderful, surprising and myth
Ben Babcock
I'm starting to get to the age where I'm reading books now and saying, "Why wasn't this published when I was younger?! This is what I've been missing all these years; this fills the gap that, until it was filled, I never knew existed!" Although Bridge of Birds was published before I was born, it still provokes a similar feeling (one of, "Why didn't I know about this when I was younger?").

There's something seductive about fables and fairy tales—the real, often grim fairy tales that lurk in the su
This is truly a book about a China that never was, and probably should have been. Hughart catches perfectly the folk story style while also giving us a complex and engrossing story, through a fantastical world enhanced by all those close contacts with real world history.

The main characters are very likable, the plot does not lose track of itself despite the sharp turns, and it is wonderful how "a small character flaw" can make someone interesting.

It is read in a breeze, which is also an importan
Alex Ristea
What a fun ride.

Delightful is the best way to put it. This is a true fantasy novel—almost insane at times with the level of fanciful world-building and maximum-level hyperbole.

You can tell Hughart is a true lover of stories, especially faerie tales and those sorts.

I wasn't sure what to think the first few chapters, but you have to remember I came from a Wheel of Time marathon, which has a lot more description and slower pacing.

But I quickly fell in love with this fantastic adventure novel. It's
It's not often that you read a book and it immediately jumps up into your "Best Books Ever" list. Usually it takes some time and reflection, careful thought about the book's characters, themes and message. Perhaps a re-read would be in order, and then, after some consideration, you might say, "Yeah. I think this is a really, really good book that I want everyone else to read."

I think I hit that somewhere around page 182.

This is, as the cover tells us, a novel of "An ancient China that never was.
Jul 27, 2012 Steve rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Writing a review of Bridge of Birds is a challenge that I admit to not being up to. I do not know of words that are powerful enough to do even a half-rate job of conveying just how fantastic I think this book is. Nevertheless, I shall attempt it, as the most important thing in the entire world right now is that I convince everyone to read this book*.

Number Ten Ox (who isn't actually an Ox, but was his parents' 10th child, and is rather large) is a peasant farmer in the titular China That Never W
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 12, 2007 Shane rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of historical fiction, chinese fantasy
Loved this book for its fresh style. It is witty, funny and melancholy too. It is a fairy tale about two heroes, one with a slight flaw in his character, who seek the Great Root of Power, (Ginsing) to heal children from a village afflicted with paralysis. Strange lands, horrifying creatures and magical beings are all involved...and love sweet love with an amazing didn't see it coming ending!!! If made into a movie it would be a cross between Ku-Fu Hustle and The Princess Bride. Read it today!
Mar 04, 2013 Eric rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those who enjoy a good fable
Recommended to Eric by: Sword and Laser
Shelves: fantasy
It's hard for me to define this book using my own words, so I will steal the dictionary's.

fa·ble: a legendary story of supernatural happenings.

It is, in a word, a fable, not of the talking animal kind, or the kind that are only for children, but of the kind in the definition above. In the story, the legends are those of "an ancient China that never was" and the supernatural is presented as only magical realism can (this video has a much clearer and more detailed explanation of that aspect of the
Oh, this was fun. A clever, snarky, funny story that reads almost like a real Chinese epic but is even more fun than that. A definite re-read - I'm trying to put my finger on what it reminds me of, it's like Outlaws of the Marsh meets Kipling meets Andre Norton meets Saki, or something. I would have loved it more if I'd read it as a kid, but I loved it plenty anyway.
This is another time when I wish Goodreads did half-stars. This was an almost perfect book for me...the only holdup I have is that sometimes the writing was confusing. I admit, the "confusion" may be on my end; work has been insanely busy lately with ops for one mission and the launch of another. This book wasn't conducive to reading after 12-16 hour days.

A winding (and in fact circling!) tale where nothing should be taken at face value, this is at its core a "traditional" story of a hero with a
Bridge of Birds makes a nice change from the standard Western fantasy. Barry Hughart is a Western writer, of course, but he's drawing on non-typical settings and sources -- although, of course, a lot of the stories and lore in this book is made up for the purposes of the story, there are also things I recognise from the little I've read of Monkey (Journey to the West). It's different enough to be refreshing. Some of the stories it includes are lovely -- particularly the one that turns out to be ...more
Does anyone else even write whimsical medieval Chinese fantasy in English? I don't know and don't care. Barry Hughart created a great partnership for "Master Li" and "Number Ten Ox." These guys have shades of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, or the Lone Ranger and Tonto, or even Legolas and Gimli. Moreover, Hughart manages to be mystical and earthy at the same time, which is no mean feat. Hughart, from what I understand, was a one-hit wonder in the writing game, but this is the kind of book that Si ...more
Julie Davis
Reading aloud on podcast.

I am honored to have received permission from author Barry Hughart to read this book on my Forgotten Classics podcast. It is a personal favorite and difficult to explain just how charming, humorous, and fascinating this fantasy of An Ancient China That Never Was can be. Here is the book description particularly well put in an review:
In Bridge of Birds we meet the two main characters. Number Ten Ox is a strapping young man from a peasant village in which all th
I had been meaning to read this book for a long time now. I finally purchased a copy of the trilogy last year once I found out it was available on Kindle. I still hadn't found the time to pick it up but received a push when the Sword & Laser group decided to read it as the February pick.

Ok so as you can see it's not February (here) and I've already finished it. In fact it took less than 24 hours. Why? Because it was amazing. I loved this book from start to finish and the only reason I haven'
Wow. This book lives up to the hype. It is wonderful. Hughart takes the reader to a place and time that never truly was, but is wonderful and real. The book is wonderful, its brillant, its Chaucerian.

Bridge of Birds has an controling quest, but it is told in three parts, each part forming part of the quest. While the story is told in fable form, the two central characters are never protrayed as simply types. Number Ten Ox is far deeper than he first seems, than even he himselfs think he is, and
Anoop Pai B
Every now and then one must let go of the apprehension of wandering into the unknown realms, straying away from the routine and the familiar to head into an unknown and unchartered territory, for you may end up finding the treasure at the end of the rainbow or even better, a book like Bridge of Birds.
The children of a village aged between 8 and 13 are mysteriously poisoned leaving the villagers in a state of shock and worry. The Abbott asks Number Ten Ox( named so because he is the tenth child t
What a fun, quirky book! It doesn't really fall neatly into any category. Part myth, part fantasy, part quest with a nice dose of humor; influenced by classic Chinese novels.

The story revolves around Lu-Yu or Number Ten Ox, and Li Kao or Master Li. Number Ten Ox lives in the village of Ku-Fu with his aunt and uncle. A mysterious illness has struck certain children of the village and Number Ten Ox is sent to Peking to recruit a wise man to cure the children. Number Ten comes back with Master Li,
Deborah Cardillo
Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart is not a new book. Not even close. It was published in 1984. In 1985 it won the World Fantasy Award for best novel and in 1986 it won the Mythopoeic award for best fantasy.

Bridge of Birds is ‘a novel of an ancient China that never was,’ to use the lovely description that appeared on some of the covers of editions over the years. It is the first of three books that feature Number Ten Ox, our narrator, and Master Li, an elderly (at least 100 years old), disreputabl
Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was
Barry Hughart
278 pages, read it in paperback.

Barry Hughart is currently 78 years old and resides in Illinois. He first fell in love with the orient while serving in the military during the wake of the Korean War. There really is not that much listed on this fellow but he is adequately educated and even ran a book store for a few years. I stumbled upon this in my suggested reading on Goodreads and the high ratings and colorful reviews tol
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The Sword and Laser: "China!" 25 226 Aug 22, 2013 07:34AM  
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The Sword and Laser: "...The View Through a Half-Closed Eye..." 6 99 Mar 02, 2013 01:22AM  
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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)
  • The Story of the Stone: A Master Li Novel
  • Eight Skilled Gentlemen
The Story of the Stone: A Master Li Novel Eight Skilled Gentlemen The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox

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“Error can point the way to truth, while empty-headedness can only lead to more empty-headedness or to a career in politics.” 41 likes
“The supernatural can be very annoying until one finds the key that transforms it into science," he observed mildly... "Come on, Ox, let's go out and get killed.” 25 likes
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