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

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,587 Ratings  ·  100 Reviews
Once again World Fantasy Award-winner Barry Hughart blends folklore and fantasy to create a work of enchantment set in an ancient China that never was…but should have been. Master Li and Number Ten Ox—heroes of Bridge of Birds and The Story of the Stone—return to solve the mystery of how and why respected mandarins are being mysteriously murdered. Unbelievably, the only su ...more
Paperback, 264 pages
Published December 1st 1990 by Broadway Books
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Pete Marchetto Hughart, I believe, said that he felt more than three would have led to too much repetition, so in the end it's perhaps better he didn't continue. I'm…moreHughart, I believe, said that he felt more than three would have led to too much repetition, so in the end it's perhaps better he didn't continue. I'm on this one now and I can imagine that, were I to have a fourth in hand, it could get to be a bit much.

Each work stands up well on its own. Probably best to read them in order so you have Master Li and Number Ten Ox in their first meeting rather than to come upon that later, but that aside I'll be content enough to let the pair ride off into the sunset after this novel, I think, satisfied with what they've given me but pleased, perhaps, that I've not been overstuffed.(less)

Community Reviews

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Carol.
May 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: you want fantasy? You want different?

Take a Shakespeare problem play, steep it in Chinese myth and add a dash of lethal mayhem and you might come close to approximating Eight Skilled Gentleman.

Master Li and Number Ten Ox are attending the public execution of Sixth Degree Hosteler Tu as imperial witnesses, despite Master Li’s well known dislike of formality. When the execution is interrupted by a dying vampire ghoul carrying a half-gnawed head, Master Li realizes there’s something strangely aristocratic about the victim that require
...more
Jokoloyo
Oct 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
The third novel of the series, and it is better than the second one. alas, the first novel is still the best. Don't get me wrong, all the novels are hilarious with exotic fictitious Ancient China setting. I just think, the ending of the first novel is still the best, it could made me highly emotional when read the last pages.

OK, back to the third novel, Eight Skilled Gentleman.

The beginning of the novel is actually the most ambitious of the series. The novel started on Capital City with vivid an
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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
...more
Andrew Lasher
Jun 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Roger Eschbacher
Mar 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Amita
Mar 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
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
...more
Sineala
Feb 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Bryan
Aug 30, 2012 rated it liked it
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
...more
Tim Hicks
Jun 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 abebooks.com; used paperbacks can be had af
...more
Phil
Feb 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
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
...more
Athena
Oct 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Asian studies, Ancient China, Mythology, Fantasy, Shakespeare readers
Recommended to Athena by: Carol.
The final entry in Hughart's amazing mythology of an Ancient China that never was, following the adventures of our now-beloved archetypes Master Li (the ancient scholar, wise & irreverent) and Number Ten Ox (the strong peasant, loyal & kind).

Oddly enough it is in this final volume that Hughart gives us a Number Ten Ox who comes closest to being a real person , yet Hughart manages to remain true to the mythological nature of his writing. It is a fine finale to a an absolutely brilliant t
...more
Sylvester
3.5*
I love these characters - the brawny Number 10 Ox carrying the brilliant little Master Li on his back - yin and yang, right there. Hughart is incredible. I love his style, his imagination, description - it is actually dazzling, the colours and characters, legends, history, adventure - all woven together. No, not as amazing as Bridge of Birds, but still wonderful. I find the pacing problematic, Hughart's storytelling speeds up in the last half, almost going too fast for words (I know that doe
...more
Psychophant
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
...more
Ted Rabinowitz
Jul 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kay
Aug 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Carol
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I adore all 3 of Barry Hughart's books. Even went through rare book exchange to find this one.
Number 10 Ox is the simple, sincere narrator with a humorous perspective, and Master Li his brilliant wino of a detective boss. In a world where a litany of myths describe the world to most of its inhabitants, these two solve a murder mystery whose final explanation DOES have some roots in the poetic myth. Light, Fun, intriguing.
Pete Marchetto
Dec 30, 2015 rated it liked it
I gather Hughart had intended his three works focused upon Number Ten Ox and Master Li to extend out to seven novels in total. However, fate intervened in his falling out with his publishers. The works were then not written given that, as Hughart remarked, he was afraid of becoming repetitive.

I think that was a wise choice.

All three works - Bridge of Birds, The Story of the Stone, and now this can be summarised in much the same way. Hughart draws upon Chinese myth and legend to construct stories
...more
Isabel (kittiwake)
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Oscar
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
Alan Bach
Oct 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
If someone had told me this had been a fanfiction and not written by Hughart himself I would have believed them. By that I mean Eight Skilled Gentlemen has all the elements you would expect from a book in this series: comical scenes, Master Li being eccentric, Number Ten Ox being rather trustworthy, a seemingly unsolvable mystery, a culprit that is supposed to be unsuspecting, a girl that Number Ten Ox falls in love with and who for some reason kind of returns his affection, very loosely connect ...more
Steve
Aug 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Carl Nelson
Dec 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Nicolas
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
...more
Kate
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
...more
Valerie
Jun 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
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
...more
Chrysoula Tzavelas
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: china, did-not-finish
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
artofstu
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy
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
Tom Emanuel
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy-sci-fi
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
Pie Pie
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
...more
Gehayi
I found the story extremely confusing, and by the end I was totally lost. I finished it, for what that's worth, but I felt as if numerous allusions were being made that I wasn't aware of. I read the other two books and enjoyed them very much; I think that the problem was that I didn't understand anyone's motives, be they those of Envy the mandrill-faced cavalier, the titular Eight Skilled Gentlemen, Hosteler Tu, or the Queen Mother of the West, and I have no knowledge of boat racing (which is ra ...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
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)

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