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Eight Skilled Gentlemen (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox #3)

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  1,249 ratings  ·  71 reviews
In the heart of the Forbidden City, Master Li and Number Ten Ox, accompanied by a scarred puppeteer and his shamanka daughter, investigate the murder of respected mandarins. By the author of Bridge of Birds. Reprint. PW. AB.
Paperback, 255 pages
Published January 1st 1991 by Foundation/Doubleday (first published 1990)
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Bridge of Birds by Barry HughartThe Tales of the Otori Trilogy by Lian HearnThe Twelve Kingdoms by Fuyumi OnoEon by Alison GoodmanThe Sandman by Neil Gaiman
Chinese and Japanese Fantasy
25th out of 158 books — 287 voters
The Princess Bride by William GoldmanGood Omens by Terry PratchettThe Lightning Thief by Rick RiordanSwitch! The Lost Kingdoms of Karibu by Karen  PrinceThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Fantasy Books That Will Make You Laugh
207th out of 231 books — 204 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,012)
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Melissa McShane
Much as I admire this book--hence the five-star rating--it somehow leaves me uncomfortable. Maybe it's that a lot of people die who don't deserve to; maybe it's how often Li Kao and Number Ten Ox are betrayed. Possibly it's just that Master Li and Ox are constantly just seconds too late to prevent their mysterious adversary from collecting yet another artifact that could mean the destruction of the world. In any case, it's another vivid and intriguing story in Ox's histories.

As with Bridge of Bi
Roger Eschbacher
The third and (sadly) final book in Barry Hughart's superb "Bridge of Birds" series, "Eight Skilled Gentlemen" follows the adventures of Master Li and Number Ten Ox as they work on solving a new mystery involving mythical demons, corrupt officials, and a master puppeteer. Who or what is murdering high-ranking mandarins and stealing their prized ancient artifacts? Li and Ox set out to discover the answer and we are taken along for the exciting and humor-filled ride.

I say "sadly" because this rich
Andrew Lasher
Rather than going through the hassle of coming up with a good review for this book, I will just say this: I read Eight Skilled Gentlemen from cover to cover in under 24 hours. If that isn't a glowing enough endorsement for you, then I don't know what will be.

The only reason that I gave this book four stars was that it was comparatively weaker than the first book in the trilogy, Bridge of Birds. If it weren't for that, Eight Skilled Gentlemen would have easily scored perfect marks.

It had everyth
Not as good as the other two Master Li books, but considering how excellent the first two were, "not as good" still means it's a pretty fun read. We are once again plunged into the usual sort of mythological mystery quest, this time involving eight awful murderous beasts, and of course a great number of strange things happen. I think perhaps it's a little more gruesome and a little less whimsical than the other two, but still interesting and very much recommended. The books are definitely starti ...more
Tim Hicks
Sep 03, 2007 Tim Hicks rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people with an interest in China or adventure or romance or clever plot details
Shelves: fantasy
The lead character is a former senior bureaucrat who is a genius with "a slight flaw in my character" - he's a trickster and schemer. And he's very, very good at it.

This book has it all - Chinese history, adventure, romance, bad jokes and puns, wonderfully inventive scams and schemes, and heroes who just don't give up no matter what.

Be warned - there are two other Hughart books set in this world, and they are hard to find. But you will want them. Try; used paperbacks can be had af
This is the last book in the "China that never was" series. It is also the weaker. Although the plot has the labyrinthine quality that Hughart handles so well, the characters are flat and the mythic landscape, in my opinion, less rich than what he usually weaves.

The recurring characters are flat and poorly developed, which is not so bad if you have read the previous books, but makes them inscrutable if you start anew. Only at the ending does the author retrieve some of the magic and mythical won
I didn't even know that Barry Hughart had written another story about Li Kao and Number Ten Ox, so it was a pleasant surprise to find this out after I'd reviewed Bridge of Birds and The Story of the Stone. However, I found it less engaging than the two other books.

Eight Skilled Gentlemen is even more odd than the two preceding stories. It's quite enjoyable, but Hughart plays a similar identity trick in this book as he did in Bridge of Birds and Story of the Stone and I'd guessed the twist well b
The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox are what would happen if Terry Pratchett decided to write a Sherlock Holmes style mystery series right after he finished reading a messload of Chinese folklore. I'm sure if I were a bit more of an expert on Chinese folklore, I'd find ways to pick the series apart, but I'm not, so I'm just going to enjoy them at face value. The tales are wonderfully twisty, full of funny non-sequiters, and rich in imagery.

Eight Skilled Gentlemen follows the same form
Ted Rabinowitz
A superb piece of chinoiserie.

Barry Hughart was one of those authors who appears out of nowhere, writes only one or two perfectly formed, utterly unique books, and then vanishes again.

This one is the third, last, and best of Hughart's "Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox." It's a weird, lovely combination of Chinese myth, Holmes & Watson detective work, pulp adventure and arch comedy. Highly recommended.
Je ne vais pas paraphraser la quatrième de couverture, mais juste me contenter de rappeler que ce roman raconte les aventures de Maître Li et de Boeuf numéro dix dans une Chine fantasmée. On y trouve donc des Dieux, des eunuques, des montreurs de marionettes, des chamans et chamankas .... Et globalement des personnages tous plus grands que nature, aussi bien dans leurs attitude que dans leurs caractères, et même dans leurs vêtements.
Ca m'arrive assez rarement, mais je dois avouer que je n'ai pas
The last in the series which makes me very sad. The "ancient China that never was" is a wonderful place and I want Hughart to take us back there again. I have re read all three books in this series numerous times and my enjoyment still hasn't waned. Terrific series.
While still a pleasure to read, Eight Skilled Gentlemen hews disappointingly close to The Story of the Stone's formula. As with the last book, there's a barrage of digressions, false starts, betrayals, and red herrings. While individual scenes are invariably entertaining--one where Number Ten Ox and Master Li have to dispose of a corpse was stomach-churningly hilarious--I felt they didn't quite come together to form a single cohesive book.

That being said, Master Li and Number Ten Ox have earned
Kim Bishop
Not the best of the Master Li and Number 10 Ox books, but not by any stretch of the imagination the worst. It bums me out that due to messed up publishing shenanigans there will never be a completion to this series, because this is the sort of book that makes you want more, instead of being the satisfying conclusion that this book was kind of forced to be. My only real issue is that there seems to be a repeat character that the author uses to highlight the weird bullcrap that is classical Chines ...more
Con 'Ocho honorables magos', Barry Hughart dio por finalizada las Crónicas del Maestro Li y Buey Número Diez, de las que forman parte 'Puente de pájaros' y 'La leyenda de la piedra'. Como él mismo comenta en el libro, podría haber seguido y seguido con esta saga de manera automática, como hacen otros escritores, pero no lo creyó oportuno, y lo que es más importante, deseó poner un digno punto final a estas historias porque veía que el proceso empezaba a hacerse repetitivo y tedioso. Así que cort ...more
Carl Nelson
The good:
-Fast romp through the imaginative and refreshing Chinese mythology
-Witty dialog
-Memorable, extremely strong characters of Master Li and Number Ten Ox
-Intriguing, convoluted story that imaginatively weaves mythology and fantasy for a rewarding read

The bad:
-Definitely the weakest of the three Master Li stories, lacking the mischievous sense of fun that pervades the other two
-Very few characters besides Master Li and Number Ten Ox are fleshed out
-A few lengthy, tedious digressions about h
Bridge of Birds and The Story of the Stone were two great novels that I remember with fondness. I'd always hoped that Barry Hughart would either write more adventures of Master Li and Number Ten Ox or, at the very least, more books.

Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago with I discovered Eight Skilled Gentlemen at one of my local used bookstores. What a score! I'd had no idea the book was even out there. Lucky me.

Well, while I wouldn't say it is a "bad" book, it was pretty disappointing. The plot f
One of the more depressing thoughts I've been dwelling on for the past few days is the fact that we'll not see any more novels chronicling the mystery solving adventures of Li Kao and Number Ten Ox. If you've read none of their adventures, you don't know how sad that thought is. I shall try to let you know how sad you are, but your best bet would be to read through the books yourself.

This one starts with an execution, a vampire-like creature, and the apparent confession of murder by the foremost
The thing with mysteries is that you can't use the same trick over and over again and expect a reaction from the reader. In Bridge of Birds, the reveals were fresh and clever. In Story of the Stone, it was somewhat expected, but still interesting. But the third time is not the charm here, and the mystery part of Hughart's books that I found so compelling before was a bit of a dud.

This book also lacked the same fairy tale air that the first two books captured. Even though the story revolves aroun
Isabel (kittiwake)
I wouldn't have believed anybody could scream loud enough to make the mob in the Vegetable Market shut up and pay attention, or make the Chief Executioner of Peking come to a halt with his sword raised high, but that is exactly what happened. All eyes turned to six figures that were racing into the square through the Gate of Prolonged Righteousness. The five men in the lead had wide staring eyes, faces bleached white with terror, and mouths gaping like coal bins as they emitted one earsplitting ...more
Chrysoula Tzavelas
I just couldn't get into this. I'm not even sure how far I am since I'm reading a Kindle compilation. While I loved Bridge of Birds and liked the second one this one just felt like more of the same. Maybe the Only Girl In The Book who of course Ox Is In Love With doesn't die, and maybe one of the two supposed allies isn't _actually_ the bad guy but I just can't muster the interest to read on and find out. It had random tangents about the culture and history that were poorly integrated into the n ...more
Tom Emanuel
Eight Skilled Gentleman represents a step down in quality after Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was and The Story of the Stone. But a small step it is, and perhaps more due to my simply being dazzled by the first two stellar installments in the series than to any objective criteria. In any event, a fitting conclusion to what should have been a seven-part series, again combining incandescent humor, a page-turning mystery, and a deep sense of humanity that transforms what m ...more
This was another good book in the series. It has many similarities in style to the prior books in the series, though the Chinese myths it touches on are different. According to the author, one of the reasons why this is the final book in the series (besides some publication problems) is that it started to get repetitive and I can agree with that. Yes, the characters are good and the plot engaging, but the overarching framework is the same as the prior two novels and the pattern is set in stone n ...more
I enjoyed this whole series and this book was no exception. I will say, I guessed the ending well before we got anywhere near the ending - at least insofar as the "whodunnit" aspect of the ending. It's a bit of a repeat of the first two books and that was disappointing but, of course, there were so many details and strange occurrences in the story that the big reveal is really only a small part anyway.
The one thing that makes the Master Li and Number Ten Ox books fun to read is Barry Hughart's humor, some of which is very subtle. His plots are complex, almost convoluted and perhaps hard to follow; Eight Skilled Gentlemen is no exception. Of the three books, the first is definitely my favorite, but I can't decide if I liked the second or third books better. I think maybe Gentlemen beats out Story of Stone due to the hilarious scene where (view spoiler) ...more
This book was by far the worst of the series. It didn't really end as a trilogy but tries to serialize the characters. The problem is, the plot is both intentionally vague in the details and glaringly obvious in the overall story.

Many sections were both incredibly boring and completely skippable. These sections could be 3-4 pages long. The whole book could've been 25% shorter because of it.

Finally, there was no tension. The first book creates tension with the sick children and the ominous 4 mont
It's a bit disappointing that this trilogy goes from a strong start, in the shape of Bridge of Birds, to something that certainly doesn't match up to that. There were parts I liked about Eight Skilled Gentlemen, but I do think the trilogy got weaker with each successive book. Probably a good thing that it stopped being published, or so wikipedia tells me. On the one hand, I've become fond of Number Ten Ox and Li Kao -- on the other, not much new is being done with them. Again, I don't know exact ...more
Fixes the main problem I had with the previous book in the series. The author seems to have remembered he was working on a fantasy book series. From the first chapter on, there's a definite presence of magic and the supernatrual. It doesn't quite reach the same heights as the first book in the series. There's not quite the same sense of humor and fun that was present in the earlier works. I can't really tell if that's due to just time pasing and the effect the various cases the main characters h ...more
One of my friends on Goodreads wanted a Chinese history fantasy recommending, so I dug this out as I read it years ago, was very impressed and decided to recommend it to all of my friends who might be interested.
Joel Neff
As with "The Story of the Stone," this adventure of Master Li and Number Ten Ox lacks that special something that made their first story, "Bridge of Birds" so transcendant. And, like with SotS, for me, it was the lack of a damsel in distress. Once again Li and Ox are acting more to satisfy their own curiosity than to protect or help any innocents and this leaves the story just a little flat. Add to that a convoluted mystery involving 3,000 year old demigods and, well, it took some time to get th ...more
Mar 28, 2011 Claudette rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Claudette by: Goodreads
Shelves: 3-star-reads
This is definitely an improvement (by leaps and bounds!) from the second book, The Story of the Stone. Fans of the Master Li series could just give that ho-hum a miss and proceed to read this one. To anyone with the taste for the macabre, the Eight Skilled Gentlemen, will not disappoint with its chapter on the ambrosial cooking of an otherwise unsavory ingredient and a certain innkeeper with a penchant for the finer details of culinary science. However, while the Eight Skilled Gentlemen brought ...more
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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: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, #1)
  • The Story of the Stone: A Master Li Novel
Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, #1) The Story of the Stone: A Master Li Novel The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox

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