by Barry Hughart

Del Rey


278pp/$5.99/May 1985

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Bridge of Birds begins with the children of the seventh-century Chinese village of Ku-fu falling prey to a strange plague. One of the villagers, Lu Yu (usually called Number Ten Ox), is sent by the village elders to Peking to find a sage who can help cure the children. Due to lack of funds, Number Ten Ox has a difficult time finding a sage, until he stumbles across Master Li Kao, a self-described scholar with a slight flaw in his character. Li Kao agrees to look into the case despite the small retainer. When he visits Ku-fu, he quickly diagnoses the problem. The remainder of the novel proceeds in a very episodic nature as Number Ten Ox and Li Kao track down the various requirements for a cure.

Number Ten Ox and Li Kao use wiles, deceit, and occasionally Number Ten Ox's strength to attain the objects of their quests. Each quest involves the two in tall tales, seemingly unrelated to everything which has happened before, although the two adventurers keep returning to Ku-fu to see if their latest cure will work.

Eventually, Hughart does tie all the episodes together in a masterful way which will send the reader back through the book to find clues to the ultimate conclusion. Hughart was careful to leave a trail of clues throughout the book which leads to the denouement, although few of them are obvious until the solution is revealed.

The book is filled with Chinese legend, mostly invented by th eauthor, but which carry a ring of authenticity. These stories play an important part in giving clues to the novel's ultimate solution whicle adding a depth to the narrative. Their versimilitude demonstrates the care with which Hughart studied actual Chinese folklore and history before he began to write this novel.

Hughart has written a sequel to Bridge of Birds, called The Story of the Stone (1988) and Eight Skilled Gentlemen (1990). Since that time, he seems to have fallen silent and rumor says he has stopped writing. If such is the case, it is a sad loss to the realm of speculative fiction.

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