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

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  8,727 Ratings  ·  939 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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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,
Mar 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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!
Nov 06, 2009 added it
Recommended to Jon by: Alternative World Jan 2010 Selection
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
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
Ben 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 ob ...more
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!

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
“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 t
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 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
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.
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
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
Alex Ristea
Dec 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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 beginn
Dec 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, reviewed
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
Aug 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sorprendente novela que no dejará a nadie indiferente.

Muy bien escrita, esta gran aventura, hace gala de toques fantásticos, mitológicos, detectivescos, aderezándolo todo con un poco de humor negro muy especial que conseguirá sacarte alguna que otra sonrisa tonta.

Además de un gran prosa, Hughart nos presenta unos personajes muy "especiales", por no decir estrambóticos, que pronto se ganarán nuestro corazón.

La historia es como un pequeño rompecabezas, que si uno va estando atento a la trama será
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
Jul 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009, fantasy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
Bridge of Birds, as narrated by Number Ten Ox is a brilliant piece of work. It is very difficult to decide whether this is a fantasy with elements of comedy or the other way around. Either way it is thoroughly entertaining.

Plot The book is a comedy/fantasy set in ancient china and we follow Number Ten Ox and Master Li as they search for the great roots of power. With hilarious situations, characters, dialogues and endless twists the book forces you to abandon all other things like work, food an
Assaph Mehr
May 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of good books - this transcends the genres of fantasy or mystery.
One of the best fantasy detective/mystery novels out there. In a market populated by dark fantasy and horror detectives, this book stands unique in one important aspects - charm.

It is an absolute pleasure to read, striking a great balance between the naive Number Ten Ox and the Cynical Master Li, between the rational and the fantastical, between China that was and China that could have been. I keep re-reading it every few years, and every time it's still just as good.

This is a book of inspired (
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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 (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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“Error can point the way to truth, while empty-headedness can only lead to more empty-headedness or to a career in politics.” 69 likes
“Fable has strong shoulders that carry far more truth than fact can.” 38 likes
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