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 cureThe quest led them to a host of truly memorable characters, multiple wonders, incredible adventures—and strange coincidences, which were really not coincidences at all And it involved them in an ancient crime that still perturbed the serenity of Heaven Simply and charmingly told, this is a wry tale, a sly tale, and a story of wisdom delightfully askew Once read, its marvels and beauty will not easily fade from the mindThe author claims that this is a novel of an ancient China that never was But, oh…it should have been! 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 deeplydiscounted 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 notyetenlightened clientele It was the sort of book that disappoints you when you have to leave it at the end, like being exiled from a wondrous, frightening, invigorating fantasyland What hurt all thewas the comparative rarity of Hughart's two followups, The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen, which were only extant in bookclub and smallrun softcover editions, respectively These three stand as Hughart's only novels to datewhich is simultaneously a damn shame and a relief You never want to see an author you love decline, and it seems authors inevitably do Instead, Hughart produced three works in a bubble and then quietly departed the field, leaving something special behind him.I note, for the sake of completeness, that The Stars Our Destination also published an omnibus edition of the complete trilogy with Barry Hughart's blessing Whether those are easier to find than the originals, I can't say. I most definitely havethan 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, get married and have little alternate history Chinese babies and live happily ever after.But … you know, slight flawed character me.Writer Hughart has used this odd vehicle to create a fabulously imagined fantasy – almost a modern fable, with simple but stylish sub plots and several loosely connected story lines that actually do get tied up nicely at the end.Besides the grounding in Chinese history (alternatively) this just seemed untied and flapping in the wind – a fantasy that came unglued somewhere.Still pretty good. 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 KuFu 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 personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character”We could go ahead and try to guess what exactly Master Li’s personal flaw is but really, we can have a few good guesses as both Master Li and Number Ten Ox embark on a quest that sees them lying, stealing, cheating and swindling their way across China all in the name of the poor plague ridden children of KuFu There are really no depths our two heroes will not stoop to (or rather Master Li will stoop to) in the name of the greater good, whether it be convincing a merchant to buy a gold shitting goat, or bartering an ear that gives the children of one’s enemies leprosy In the process of searching for the cure for the children of KuFu they will also uncover a 1000 year old mystery which needs to be solved for there to be any chance of ridding the village of the plague On their way they will come across many interesting characters with the most elegant names like Pretty Ping, or Fainting Maid, or Lotus Cloud, and my personal favourite CutOffTheirBalls Wang.The humour had my family members raising their eyebrows as I sat shaking with mirth For instance, do you know how a gravedigger avoids burying his shadow? The obvious answer would seem that you can’t bury your shadow But Pawnbroker Feng and Ma the Grub have asensible solution“Careful with that shovel!” yelped Ma the Grub, leaping back in fear “You almost trapped my shadow inside the grave!”“Why don’t you tie your shadow to your body with a cord, like a sensible person?” Pawnbroker Fang grumbled.As you may have guessed by now the tone is rather light hearted throughout But one should not expect that this is therefore a light easy brainless read You need to pay attention The book employs an economy of words that sees the most insignificant detail as important for advancing the plot from encounter to encounter, following it’s own convoluted internal logic What is , these details come back to play a part in the larger story As zany as the story appears, you can actually solve the 1000 year old mystery if you ask the right questions and pay attention to the dialogue I did not guess the ending because I was totally distracted from how important certain clues were But they were there and I was kicking myself for discarding them So I guess a reread is in order at some stage.Anyway, I enjoyed the book and my advice for other readers is, don’t read when you are tired You will enjoy the humour and the story a lotwhile alert.4 stars This hilarious and charming book is probably the most fun bromance 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 waylaugh 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 the ages of 8 and 13 He must hire a sage to cure the little ones from an illness that 'knows how to count.'Number Ten Ox (he is the tenth son of his father and is as strong as, wellyou know) can only afford a winesoaked healer called Master Li Kao As it turns out, Master Li is the precise, wiley, criminally oriented 110 year old they need! The children have accidentally been poisoned, and only The Great Root of Power (1000 year old ginseng with armlike appendages) can save them Now, to go steal it!Number Ten Ox and Master Li set off on a series of adventures that include characters named HenpickedHo, CutOffTheirBalls Wang, etc and involve trickery, faked corpses, and other Brer Rabbitlike subterfuge The villains are over the top horrendous in uproarious ways, and you'll cheer their downfalls Foodies will snicker over the detailed preparation of Porcupine Paste (serve it with a gold instead of silver serving spoon and the diner will DIE!.If you liked The Princess Bride, you will love Bridge of Birds! I highly recommend this to high school or college aged readers and anybody young at heart Fantasy is totally not my genre of choice, but I applaud and understand all the wonderful awards this adventuresome book won.Upon introducing oneself, we learn that it is polite to say My surname is Cantrell, my personal name is LeAnne, and there is a slight flaw in my character This book, though, is FLAWLESS!! Super fun. Bridge of Birds is a charming, awardwinning 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, ebookA 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 surprising strength.We navigate dangerous mazes to hidden treasure hoards, satisfy the grieving souls of haunted ghosts, and marvel at the lightning intellect of Master Li, the scholarly genius with a slight flaw in his character.My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character, he said matteroffactly You got a problem? pg 32, ebookThere is very little downtime in Bridge of Birds And just when you think things couldn't possibly get worse for Master Li and Number Ten Ox, somehow they do.Despite its breakneck pacing, I found many beautiful moments to marvel over in this story It is a fairy tale with both substance and heart Easy to see why it received the 1985 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and 1986 Mythopoeic Award for Best Fantasy.I think that's evenimpressive when you consider this was Barry Hughart's debut novel.Reverend Sir, in your studies of myth and folklore, have you ever encountered a ghostly handmaiden who pleads that birds must fly? pg 154, ebookHighly recommended for readers who like fantasy and historical fiction novels with a dash of mystery and for their heroes to have slight flaws in their character such a propensity to drink too much wine or the willingness to swindle others but for very good reasons. I can't think of a book quite like this BoB is a lighthearted 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! 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 halfrate 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 Was During the annual harvesting of silk, many children in his village fall sick with a plague He departs to go to Peking to find a wise man to help cure the children, but the only wise man he can afford is Li Kao, who proudly proclaims to have a slight flaw in his character It should be noted that he proclaims this (for this first time) as Number Ten Ox finds Li Kao coming to from a drunken stupor and demandingwine.Thus begins one of the greatest adventure stories I have ever read Comparable to some of Neil Gaiman's best, or to The Princess Bride, Bridge of Birds starts with a simple medical mystery, and escalates rapidly This escalation is particularly joyous for the reader to experience, as it occurs through the wide eyed point of view of Number Ten Ox, who has essentially never left his tiny village before he finds himself in large cities, the estates of nobility, isolated monasteries, and witnessing (and participating in!) unimaginable events all in the hopes of curing the children of his village That last bit is kind of a lie, but I won't clarify for fear of spoiling things.Delightful (and dastardly) characters pop in and out, providing aid (willingly or unwilling) or hindrance (usually this part is willing) to thelet's sayheroic duo's quest Henpecked Ho Miser Shen The Ancestress Lotus Cloud The Key Rabbit Pawnbroker Fang and Ma the Grub Bright Star Fainting Maid The names of the characters are already so full of the special charm that pervades this book, that I don't even want to tell you anyabout them.Really, the charm is a large part of what makes this book so special So rather than trying to come up with words powerful enough to make you read this book, I'll just leave you with words that I've lifted straight out of it:His hands shot out, a blade glinted, blood spurted and he calmly dropped the thug's earring into his pocket, along with the ear that was attached to it My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character, he said with a polite bow This is my esteemed client, Number Ten Ox, who is about to strike you over the head with a blunt object.I wasn't quite sure what a blunt object was, but I was spared the embarrassment of asking when the thug sat down at a table and began to cry.I'd do it myself if I were ninety, but it appears that Lotus Cloud will be your department You may console youself with the thought the most expensive woman in the world is likely to be the most beautifulMaster Li, I shall do my duty, I said bravely.Any last words? asked the sergeant at arms.I was only Number Ten Ox, so I lifted my head to [redacted] I hope I splatted blood all over you, you son of a sow! I yelled Oddly enough I felt much better, and I stopped gagging at the thick sweet smell of blood.We gazed down a hundred feet of sheer cliff at an angry sea where waves smashed against jagged rocks that lifted through the foam like teeth There was one small calm pool almost directly beneath us, but for all I knew it was six inches deepMy life has been rather hectic, and I could use a long rest, [Master Li] sighed When I get to Hell to be judged, I intend to ask the Yama Kings to let me be reborn as a threetoed sloth Do you have any preference?I thought about it A cloud, I said shyly.I perched on the edge and took aim.Farewell, sloth.Farewell, cloud.I held my nose and jumped.*things going on right now, for future reference: 2012 Olympic Games, Economic Woes, Kim Jong Un just got married, Twilight chick cheated on Twilight dude, Ongoing campaigning for 2012 American presidential election, Scientists tentatively believe they have a cure for AIDS, ChickFilA hates gay people, I have some food stuck in my teeth, and the Seattle Sounders just signed a new midfielder. “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 unicornshaped 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 plague strikes the village’s youth and at the same time decimates the silk harvest Number Ten Ox volunteers to run to Peking to bring a wise man back to the village Unfortunately, all of the cosmopolitan wise men laugh at Ox and his mere five thousand copper, all except a hungover Master Li “Could this be the great Li Kao… who had been elevated to the highest rank of mandarin, and whose mighty head was now being used as a pillow for drunken flies?” After a brief restorative, Master Li takes pity on Ox’s plight and determines they need to make haste back to the village Poor Number Ten Ox He has never met the likes of Master Li, former first place scholar among all the scholars in China (a mere seventyeight years ago) But he has a slight flaw in his character.“The abbot paused to consider his words…’You are a good boy, and I would not like to meet the man who can surpass you in physical strength, but you know very little about this wicked world,’ the abbot said slowly ‘To tell you the truth, I am not so worried about the damage to your body as I am about the damage to your soul You see, you know nothing whatsoever about men like Master Li… His voice trailed off, and he groped for the proper words Then he decided that it would take several years to prepare me properly.”What follows is along the lines of traditional folk tales and orphan adventures; the quest to save the children of the village, Ox as the innocent youth and Li as the wise man/guide–except Master Li’s wisdom often comes from knowing the wicked ways of human nature and his own participation in debauchery He also seems to have read all the great tales, as his solutions sound suspiciously familiar One of the first chapters is how Master Li tricks a rich miser out of enough gold to finance their trip (and gets Ox a night with the young concubine to boot) Their third or fourth adventure is an exceptional revenge on a selfish princess, and another one a bloody mess Hughart is able to manage the delicate balance humorous violence requires, perhaps by invoking our earliest folk tales, such as the one where Bluebeard keeps bodies in a locked room, or the version of Little Red where the huntsman hacks open the wolf to free her and grandma Horrific, but so clearly symbolic, so clearly not real.Their adventures take them throughout China, and from one frying pan to another There’s ghosts, dungeons, a tricksy duo, an evil duke, a labyrinth, an enormously rich man, a tower, treasure, fond friends, a torture chamber, redemption, gods (and there’s even a little kissing) If it lacks the R.O.U.S., it makes up for it with an invisible hand.“The supernatural can be very annoying until one finds the key that transforms it into science,’ he observed mildly ‘I’m probably imagining complications that don’t exist Come on, Ox, let’s go out and get killed.'”Writing is lovely and contains a satisfactory balance of description and action Gentle humor abounds There’s a motif where Li and Ox are certain they are going to die and share hopes of what they will be reborn as on the Great Wheel Li prefers the threetoedsloth, Ox a cloud Later, a third company member adds another angle to their bucolic reincarnation But Master Li is clearly the cynic of the bunch, and his comments usually provide comic relief:“‘Well, it’s an idea, and even a bad idea is better than none,’ said Master Li ‘Error can point the way to truth, while emptyheadedness can only lead toemptyheadedness or to a career in politics.'”It’s silly, sweet, subversive and really clever Ox’s youthful innocence is charming and believable, and while Master Li knows much, he is clearly puzzling his way through the quest as well The end was a lovely synthesis, satisfying both emotionally and in plotting, both immediate and symbolic Barry Hughart clearly has a flaw in his character The world needsMaster Li.“‘O great and might Master Li, pray impart to me the Secret of Wisdom!’ he bawled… To my great credit I never batted an eyelash ‘Take a large bowl,’ I said ‘Fill it with equal measure of fact, fantasy, history, mythology, science, superstition, logic, and lunacy Darken the mixture with bitter tears, brighten it with howls of laughter, toss in three thousand years of civilization, bellow kan pei–which means ‘dry cup’–and drink to the dregs.’ Procopius stared at me ‘And I will be wise,’ he asked ‘Better,’ I said ‘You will be Chinese.'” 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, and you were right I should listen to youoften.