Once again Master Li and Number Ten Ox, the most incongruous and eccentric pair of sleuths in the realms of fantasy, take on another case. It begins with a vampire ghoul interrupting an execution and leads to a murdered mandarin and the sightings of some very terrible creatures.
The abbot of a humble monastery in the Valley of Sorrows calls upon Master Li and Number Ten Ox to investigate the killing of a monk and the theft of a seemingly inconsequential manuscript from its library. Suspicion soon lands on the infamous Laughing Prince Liu Sheng—who has been dead for about 750 years. To solve this mystery and others, the incongruous duo will have to travel across China, outwit a half-barbarian king, and saunter into (and out of) Hell itself.
Against the exotic backdrop of China thirteen-and-a-half centuries ago—a land as filled with magic as Tolkien's Middle Earth—two odd companions seek the Great Root of Power. Number Ten Ox is a strong and eager, but rather naive, young peasant; Li Kao is a wily old sage with a slight flaw in his character and a weakness for rice wine. Together, they undertake a perilous quest to save the children of Ox's village from death by poison. The path they take leads them to a homicidal matriarch, the cruelest duke in history, monsters both visible and invisible, men more deadly than monsters, treacherous labyrinths, pleading ghosts whose pleas are incomprehensible, and the gradual realization that before they can accomplish their task they must complete another one: Solve a baffling mystery that occurred a thousand years before they were born.
Blending fantasy and folklore with social history and the customs of different periods of ancient China, the author has created a rare and beautiful book that enables Western readers to view the world through ancient Oriental eyes. Bridge of Birds is a tour de force of narrative and literary ingenuity that is funny, sad, shocking, suspenseful, and completely irresistible. At times one submerges in it as in a warm sea formed from the tears of laughter; at other times, the tears are of heartbreak. At the end the reader will find a denouement that is both stunning and deeply poignant.
No other book is quite like Bridge of Birds. Unless the author picks up his mouse-whiskered writing brush again, there never will be.
BARRY HUGHART, who also has a slight flaw in his character, meditates in a shack in the Arizona Sonoran desert. This is his first novel.