Books : reviews

Barry Hughart.
Bridge of Birds.
Corgi. 1984

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 19 December 2000

The children in Number Ten Ox's village Ku-fu have been accidentally poisoned by unscrupulous con men. Ox is sent to find someone to help save them, and he picks Li Kao, a wily old scholar with a slight flaw in his character. Together they embark on a quest to find the Great Heart of Power -- a very special ginseng root -- to cure the children. But it seems their quest is linked to an older legend, of Jade Pearl and the Bridge of Birds.

This is a charming, witty, and interesting story. The oriental-esque style is used well to add colour and bizarre detail, without ever becoming overly-precious, and there are some imaginative twists and turns. Many well-hidden clues are given (although the identity of one of the ostensibly mystery characters is blindingly obvious), and there are many ingenious escapes and rescues. A pleasure to read.

Barry Hughart.
The Story of the Stone.
Corgi. 1988

A fantasy of magic in a land that never was, The Story of the Stone tells the tale of a long-dead Prince who has apparently risen from his grave to cast a reign of terror on the simple monks of the neighbouring village. Master Li, the wise and venerable sage, and his assistant, the immensely strong Number Ten Ox, begin their quest to set the wakeful spirit at rest.

In their search the two cross paths with armies of the walking dead, grinning demons and incredible characters like One-Eyed Wong, Fat Fu, and Callous Chou, the Pinchfist Prince. And before their quest is ended there comes the confrontation with the forces of evil in the dangerous Valley of Sorrows.

Barry Hughart.
Eight Skilled Gentlemen.
Doubleday. 1991

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 suspects appear to be mythical demons…