Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Bridge of Birds (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, #1)” as Want to Read:
Bridge of Birds (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Bridge of Birds

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

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  9,688 ratings  ·  1,073 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 April 1st 1984)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Bridge of Birds, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.29  · 
Rating details
 ·  9,688 ratings  ·  1,073 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Bridge of Birds (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, #1)
Mario the lone bookwolf
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Badass ingenious drunken master style exploring Asian culture rocks the bamboo.

It´s unique and rare to find such individual writings and the man just wrote 4 novels. I would compare him with Pratchett and I don´t know if I´ve ever done it before and it´s mainly because of the underlying subtility, as there are other humoristic authors with more laughs, dynamic, and plotting, but how this thing is written just blows my mind.

Taking just two, stereotypical, character tropes and creating such an int
Mar 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland
“Nothing on the face of this earth–and I do mean nothing–is half so dangerous as a children’s story that happens to be real, and you and I are wandering blindfolded through a myth devised by a maniac.”

Bridge of Birds opens on a pastoral setting, a remote unicorn-shaped village in the peaceful valley of Cho in ancient China. Narrated by Yu Lu, also known as Number Ten Ox (the tenth of his father’s sons and as strong as an ox), it begins with a promising silk season coming to an abrupt end. A plag
Mar 01, 2017 rated it liked it
I most definitely have more than a slight flaw in my character, and I only liked this book, did not love it.

Truth be told, it is a simply, elegantly written account of an oddly alternate history of China – describing the journey of Master Li and Number Ten Ox in dealing with a mysterious disease; and lots of other stuff.

I can absolutely see where someone (without a slight flaw in their character) would LOVE this book and want to read all of the sequels, want to take this book on dates, propose,
David Sven
Feb 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
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
Apr 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Heidi The Reader
Bridge of Birds is a charming, award-winning fantasy novel that follows the investigative efforts of Master Li as he strives to safe the mysteriously stricken children from the village where Number Ten Ox lives.

"Jade plate, Six, Eight. Fire that burns hot, Night that is not. Fire that burns cold, First Silver, then gold." pg 22, ebook

A beautiful blend of myth and fantasy, the reader is ferried from one exotic locale to the next at the side of the two heroes, one ancient and one young with surpri
LeAnne: GeezerMom
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This hilarious and charming book is probably the most fun bro-mance I've ever run across! It gets five stars from me as a fable.. similar to Big Fish or The Princess Bride in tone, but with way more laugh out loud moments. Did I already mention charm??

A young fellow living in ancient China has been dispatched to find help from a wise man - any wise man available for a handful of copper pennies - for the children of his village have collapsed with some type of plague affecting only those between
Sep 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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! ...more
Jan 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Kara Babcock
Second review: November 2017

Gosh, has it really been 7 years—nearly 8?—since I read this? Feels like no time at all.

Anyway, after not enjoying Who Fears Death, I was struck with a sudden … craving (?) for this book. Just an urge to re-read it. I can’t explain why. I just knew it would help.

And it definitely did. I have little to add about the book itself in this second review—my first review stands. I’ll say that I picked up on a lot more of the … uh … sexual stuff this time around. 20-year-old
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
My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character.

So says Master Li to Number Ten Ox when Ox is sent to the city to find a sage to assist his village, dealing with a mysterious disease. I personally was born in the Year of the Ox and therefore had a soft spot for Number Ten Ox.

This novel rated about 3.5 stars for me which, I hasten to add, I consider to be a good rating. I may have been reading Bridge of Birds at the wrong moment for me, as I am in a bit of
Aug 31, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, 2009
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 obviou ...more
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"Don't be ashamed of reliving your childhood, Ox, because all of us must do it now and again in order to maintain our sanity"
At a party, a neighbor, unprompted thrust it into my hand saying, read this. Now as I teetered home downhill on my heels, slightly tipsy, I thought why, oh why did I get snookered into this.


This was wonderful, and I never should have doubted my friend. I also shouldn't have left it on the bookshelf for so long, only to be asked about it at every subsequent
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)
Sean O'Hara
Feb 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy, orientalism
For years people have been telling me how great this book is, and I can only conclude that they read it when it first came out in the '80s and forgot all the awful bits, 'cause it turns out the story is littered with sexism and outright misogyny.

But, somebody is sure to say, isn't this a story of ancient China? Women's lib, not so big back then. That's true to some extent, though, as often the case with history, not to the extent we think. Furthermore, note the subtitle of the book -- "A Novel o
Aug 11, 2015 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Armina by: Chant

Just listened to the beginning of this here at Forgotten Classics (first 11 mins are kinda introduction about the author and stuff) and suddenly I'm so very excited about it! Soon!

Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Here's my dirty literary secret: I don't like Sherlock Holmes. I wasn't intrigued by the mysteries, and the characters "ejaculating" everywhere with their 19th century speech and stuffy manners bored me. (I enjoy the Brontës, Austen and other writers from the same period. For some reason Doyle's particular brand of stuffy didn't connect.)

While it's often compared to a Holmesian caper, I was pleased to find Bridge of Birds doesn't suffer from the same sense of propriety. Indeed, one of the protag
“My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character.”

In the beginning of the novel, the village of Ku-fu is stricken by a plague which kills its silkworms and sends its children between the ages of eight and thirteen into a coma. Number Ten Ox, the narrator, is dispatched to find a wise man who can cure the children. In Peking, he finds Master Li Kao, a drunken scholar with a self-described "slight flaw in his character", who immediately identifies
Mar 23, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Jun 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Anoop Pai B
Dec 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Aug 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 beginnin
Dawn C
Dec 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: media-physical
This is a difficult one to both rate and form an opinion on. It reads mostly like a cartoon, where everything that happens is completely unlikely and the things our heroes do and survive are completely unrealistic. The story itself is bonkers and told like an adventure with obstacles the main characters have to face and puzzles they have to solve. It's full of deus ex machina, people they need magially happen to be there, and things they need they have right at hand. Young Ox, one of the protago ...more
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this change of pace. I've been reading a ton of grim dark recently, Abercrombie, Weeks, Jeminsin, and I was getting a little worn down with it.

This book was surprisingly humorous, and I liked the style of writing.

It's set in medieval China, which is a setting I've never read before personally in fantasy - so that was a really nice change as well, but I can't say how "historically accurate" it was because I have no idea.

The main plot was about finding a cure for a disease that
Dec 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, reviewed, missing
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
Feb 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I brought this book about this time last year; this is now my fourth read of it. Its a wonderfully complete book; it makes you guess, makes you laugh, makes you cheer, makes you sad. The voice is wonderful although not one for people addicted to 'show, don't tell' or very modern prose. The finest thing about this book is Master Li, who is the impossibly wise and completely irreverent mentor we'd all pick if we were stuck in a fantasy world... or any world really. Such a shame we don't have more ...more
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
Mar 15, 2008 rated it liked it
Perhaps there's a slight flaw in my character, but I only liked this book, I didn't love it. I felt like the same thing kept happening over and over. One time I lost my bookmark and accidentally reread 3 chapters without realizing.
Still, it was entertaining. Kind of like Indiana Jones Part 47: The One With the Old Chinese Guy.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
How to find Barry Hughart? 5 32 Sep 02, 2019 03:21PM  
Play Book Tag: Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart - 4 stars 2 17 Feb 23, 2018 02:29PM  
Into the Forest: Bridge of Birds-Spoiler Free 7 46 Nov 29, 2016 02:02PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Suldrun's Garden (Lyonesse #1)
  • The Green Pearl (Lyonesse #2)
  • The Causal Angel (Jean le Flambeur, #3)
  • Mythago Wood (Mythago Wood, #1)
  • The Raven
  • Our Lady of Darkness
  • The Baron of Magister Valley
  • Night's Master  (Tales from the Flat Earth #1)
  • Golf for Enlightenment: The Seven Lessons for the Game of Life
  • Laws of UX: Design Principles for Persuasive and Ethical Products
  • The Adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Volume One: Swords and Deviltry, Swords Against Death, and Swords in the Mist
  • The Drawing of the Dark
  • Unnatural Magic
  • A Man and His Cat, Vol. 2
  • Tower of Mud and Straw
  • Archer's Goon
  • The Circus of Dr. Lao
  • Count Belisarius
See similar books…
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

Other books in the series

The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox (3 books)
  • 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)

Related Articles

As this strange summer of staying put winds down, one thing remains truer than ever: Books offer us endless adventure and new horizons to...
58 likes · 30 comments
“Error can point the way to truth, while empty-headedness can only lead to more empty-headedness or to a career in politics.” 77 likes
“Fable has strong shoulders that carry far more truth than fact can.” 48 likes
More quotes…