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Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 12. April 1985

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Bridge of Birds is a lyrical fantasy novel. Set in "an Ancient China that never was", it stands with The Princess Bride and The Last Unicorn as a fairy tale for all ages, by turns incredibly funny and deeply touching. It won the World Fantasy Award in 1985, and Hughart produced two sequels: The Story of the Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen. All present the adventures of Master Kao Li, a scholar with "a slight flaw in [his] character", and Lu Yu, usually called Number Ten Ox, his sidekick and the story's narrator. Number Ten Ox is strong, trusting, and pure of heart; Master Li once sold an emperor shares in a mustard mine, because "I was trying to win a bet concerning the intelligence of emperors."

Number Ten Ox comes from a village in which the children have been struck by a mysterious illness. He recruits Master Li to find the cure and comes along to provide muscle. They seek a mysterious Great Root of Power, which may be a form of ginseng. Of course, nothing turns out to be as simple as it seems; great wrongs must be avenged and lovers separated must be reunited, from the most humble to the highest. And even in the midst of cosmic glory, Pawnbroker Fang and Ma the Grub are picking the pockets of their own lynch mob, who are frozen in awe and wonder. --Nona Vero

Synopsis

Number Ten Ox brings Master Li Kao back to his village of Ku-fu to find the cure for a mysterious sleeping plague that has struck the villagers' children.

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Format: Taschenbuch
"Bridge of Birds" is the most effective, most moving fantasy novel I have read since John Crowley's "Engine Summer." Set in (to use the publisher's blurb) "an ancient China that never was," this is at least on the surface the tale of Number Ten Ox, a young man from a rural village who sets out with Master Li, a scholar and sage with "a slight flaw in his character," on a quest for the "great root of power," the only medicine of sufficient potency to cure the village children of a case of ku poisoning. As the story unfolds and these two characters experience adventures enough to fill many novels (one can imagine Tor or some other publisher spinning out these yarns by the tens a la Conan if they got a hold of the publishing rights), their quest begins to intertwine with another one, relating to an ancient wrong done to a goddess.
More details would be superfluous, for there is simply no substitute for reading this book. The culture and characters described here are fully realized (writers of doorstop-sized fantasy novels, such as Robert Jordan, could take object lessons from Hughart in how to tell a large story succinctly), and the overall atmosphere that this novel achieves is that of the finest kind of fable, although I would not necessarily recommend it for young children. Hughart spices his narrative throughout with a liberal dose of humor; I found myself laughing aloud many times as I read along. If there is a flaw to be found here, I failed to see it. This is as good as fantasy gets--one of the few novels that merits the adjective "magical."
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Fantasy with a touch of humour is uncommon. There are two excellent writers who have carved a significant niche in the fantasy field. Terry Pratchett is one, and Barry Hughart the other. Both have inventive minds, produce wonderfully exotic places and introduce us to characters no "mainstream" author would dare venture. Where Pratchett creates new places, Hughart devises a time that "never was" in a real place - China. This story of an imaginary China has every exemplary feature in fantasy - mystery, adventure, romance. It adds to these formulaic items a cast even Hollywood would be pressed to match. And, in twenty years since this book was published, has notably failed to do so. Perhaps it's just as well, because Hughart's excellence in story and character would be hard to portray in Hollywood terms.

Hughart's tale of a quest to find a cure surpasses anything in the fantasy genre. A group of village children, limited in age range, has been struck down by a plague. "How can a plague count?" asks the local abbot. The children aren't dead, but in a coma. Perhaps a knowledgeable man would know of a cure. Lu Yu, "Number Ten Ox", the strong tenth son of a peasant, is sent to find such a sage. He turns up Li Kao, a venerable sage "with a slight flaw in his character". We think the "slight flaw" is his thirst for wine, but that proves too simple.

Number Ten Ox carries Li Kao to various places in China seeking the Great Root of Power - a ginseng root endowed with great curative traits. Along the way, the duo encounter the Ancestress, an immense woman of immense powers of her own. They deal with the mind-reading Duke of Ch'in, whose name was adopted by the West to describe all of China.
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Von Ein Kunde am 2. April 1999
Format: Taschenbuch
I don't know exactly what it is that makes Bridge of Birds and its two sequels such enduring favourites of mine. I keep coming back to them again and again, and for someone who reads several books a week this is quite a commitment. I discovered them while working at Forbidden Planet in London, and read them while the customers could go to hell as far as I was concerned. Since then they've been one of my first ports of call whenever I'm tired or depressed. Literally they are like a breath of fresh air, reminding you in a few short paragraphs what's right with the world.
Bridge of Birds is the best of the three, in my opinion. It is the simplest in terms of plot, and you just can't beat the thrill of meeting the characters for the first time. Hughart's style evolved through the books, and I think that objectively (if one can say that about a book) he's a better writer by Eight Skilled Gentlemen - but Bridge of Birds shows the real feeling and humanity that goes into his storytelling. The story of Miser Shen and Ah Chen - listening to Miser Shen's speech about his daughter is genuinely moving in an understated way that is totally at odds with the usual histrionics of most modern fantasy. Ditto the madness of Doctor Death. Most writers are content to let their characters languish behind cliche, but Hughart is determined to show that behind everyone is a personality that is more complex than outward show would suggest - even fairly unimportant characters such as the merchant have hidden depths.
Most fantasy - in fact almost all of it - is devoid of wit, drama, character depth and humanity. It gives "escapism" a bad name. These books have all the above qualities which makes the fantastic elements of the stories that much more interesting.
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