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Eight Skilled Gentlemen by Barry Hughart

Eight Skilled Gentlemen (1990)

by Barry Hughart

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox (3)

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635815,256 (3.99)52



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I wouldn't have believed anybody could scream loud enough to make the mob in the Vegetable Market shut up and pay attention, or make the Chief Executioner of Peking come to a halt with his sword raised high, but that is exactly what happened. All eyes turned to six figures that were racing into the square through the Gate of Prolonged Righteousness. The five men in the lead had wide staring eyes, faces bleached white with terror, and mouths gaping like coal bins as they emitted one earsplitting scream after another. The sixth figure was the cause of the commotion, and one look was enough to freeze my blood. I had heard tales of vampire ghouls from Auntie Hua since I was five years old, but I had never expected to see one, and this ch'ih-mei, as Master Li later confirmed, was a specimen so classic it could have been used to illustrate the famous scientific study by the great P'u Sung-ling, Recorder of Things Strange.

The third and last book in the series begins with a vampire ghoul interrupting a public execution in Peking, just as the executioner is about to beat the previous record for number of consecutive executions with a single blow of the axe. As the vampire ghoul has also decapitated a mandarin on an island, Li Kao and Number Ten Ox begin are asked to investigate, and find themselves investigating the link between the demonic murders, a monkey man who steals antique bird-cages, and some highly-placed criminals. Li Kao and Number Ten Ox are helped by a puppeteer and his shaman daughter, and if you have read the first two books you will not be surprised at how the relationships between the four main characters pan out, or that the investigation involves quite a lot of time spent underground. I slightly preferred this book to "The Story of the Stone", but it's probably good that the author stopped after three books, as the plots were getting a bit predictable. ( )
  isabelx | Jul 1, 2013 |
It's a bit disappointing that this trilogy goes from a strong start, in the shape of Bridge of Birds, to something that certainly doesn't match up to that. There were parts I liked about Eight Skilled Gentlemen, but I do think the trilogy got weaker with each successive book. Probably a good thing that it stopped being published, or so wikipedia tells me. On the one hand, I've become fond of Number Ten Ox and Li Kao -- on the other, not much new is being done with them. Again, I don't know exactly how, but I guessed who the bad guy would be, just like with The Story of the Stone. It's pretty much, "Who do you like most and want to be a good guy? It's him."

There were some beautiful parts, as in Bridge of Birds, but I felt like a lot of the humour and beauty was confined to that first book. Which is sad. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
Another Hughart Winner:
No surprise, another entertaining and delightful Li Kao and Number Ten Ox fantasy-adventure. The grisly murder of a prominent mandarin by a mysterious ghoul provides the catalyst for this duo to go delving into China's ancient mythology searching for the answers. Along the way, author Barry Hughart creates some of the most curious and imaginative heroes and villains you will ever encounter. Just superb.

Sadly, as noted by previous reviewers, this is the third and last book that the author has written in this series. On the bright side, the books he did write were all sparkling 5-star reads. Eight Skilled Gentlemen is a winner - just read it.
  iayork | Aug 9, 2009 |
This is the last of Hughart's Ancient China stories, and he somehow managed to get me teary-eyed at the end there (bastard;)). It wasn't as good as the second book, but only because I've grown wise to his plot twists. The theme of all the books was definitely that appearances are deceiving and people are always in disguise. Even the narrator wears his peasantry like a cloak. The last part of this book was an amazing ending to a fascinating and beautiful trilogy. ( )
1 vote arianaderalte | Apr 6, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barry Hughartprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harrison, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In this novel, Li Kao and Number Ten Ox are attending the execution of a notorious criminal (about whose capture the less said the better, according to the chronicler) when into the public square bounds an ancient vampire, who soon meets a fiery demise. Shortly afterward they discover a conspiracy involving fake tea, mysterious cages, and a host of minor demon-deities led by an ape-like man with blue cheeks, a crimson nose, a silver forehead, and a yellow chin. And then things really get strange.
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