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The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten…
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The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox (original 1998; edition 2008)

by Barry Hughart

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458834,361 (4.34)27
Member:Felix_Gilman
Title:The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox
Authors:Barry Hughart
Info:Subterranean (2008), Hardcover, 650 pages
Collections:Your library
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The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox by Barry Hughart (1998)

  1. 20
    The Mortdecai Trilogy by Kyril Bonfiglioli (nessreader)
    nessreader: they share a cheerful and violent cynicism, ornate language, and are set in cultures that are based on literary genres rather than historical periods (chinoiserie for Hughart and Bertie Wooster goes pulp noir for Bonfiglioli) More importantly, I think they'd appeal to the same sense of humour.… (more)
  2. 10
    The Secrets of Jin-shei by Alma Alexander (Limelite)
    Limelite: Another alternative history with fantasy medieval Chrysanthemum kingdom setting, only featuring women's sisterhood. Magic, potions, adventure, and legendary characters.
  3. 10
    The Princess Bride [novel] by William Goldman (Limelite)
    Limelite: Similar humorous picaresque with quirky characters and adventure.
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» See also 27 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Definetely not my cup of tea. And I had such high hopes for this that it hurts. Besides, almost every reviewer here seems to just love this book.

I've read only the first part of the Chronicles, Bridge of Birds, and finishing it was almost a chore (I hate leaving books unfinished). I don't think I'll be reading the other two anytime soon, specially considering that everyone agree that they are not as good as the first one. And I didn't like the first one, so...

I think my problem with Bridge of Birds is that it is a fairy tale. I expected (wanted!) fantasy, but not the kind of extremely naïve, childish and innocent fantasy of a fairy tale. The characters have no development at all, things happen just because the story needs those things to happen to be able to go on, there are dozens of deus ex machina, everything is over the top, extremely exagerated up the point of being grotesque, there's no sense of continuity, time, distance, strength, everything that needs to be bended and twisted for the characters to reach the extremely predictable outcome is bended and twisted as needed.

I didn't like it one bit. ( )
  chaghi | Oct 15, 2018 |
“You Peking weaklings call these things flies?” he yelled. “Back in Soochow we have flies so big that we clip their wings, hitch them to plows, and use them for oxen!”

It would be hard to find a more original fantasy series than The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox by Barry Hughart. Set in "an ancient China that never was," the series is a delicious concoction of Chinese mythology, detective fiction, epic fantasy quests, and ghost stories, sprinkled with generous helpings of ribald humor and romance.

The Kindle edition I read is an omnibus edition of all three novels featuring the humble narrator Number Ten Ox and his master, the sage Li Kao, who has "a slight flaw in his character." The first book in the series, Bridge of Birds, won the World Fantasy Award in 1985, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in 1986. Bridge of Birds was followed by The Story of the Stone in 1988 and Eight Skilled Gentlemen in 1991.

This was my third reading of Bridge of Birds, and the first time I had read any of its sequels. Bridge of Birds is clearly the gem of this collection, a stand-out novel in every way. It has great narrative voice, it's by turns funny, suspenseful, and heartbreaking, and it's the kind of grand epic adventure that I really love. The plot summary from Goodreads describes it well:

When the children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox sought a wiseman to save them. He found master Li Kao, a scholar with a slight flaw in his character. Together, they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure.

The quest led them to a host of truly memorable characters, multiple wonders, incredible adventures—and strange coincidences, which were really not coincidences at all. And it involved them in an ancient crime that still perturbed the serenity of Heaven. Simply and charmingly told, this is a wry tale, a sly tale, and a story of wisdom delightfully askew. Once read, its marvels and beauty will not easily fade from the mind.

The author claims that this is a novel of an ancient China that never was. But, oh…it should have been!


The story is complex and detailed enough that I found myself just as enthralled with it this time as I was the first two times I read it.

The Story of the Stone, on the other hand, was a bit of a letdown, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen is definitely the weakest of the three stories. Both stories lack the the epic plot of Bridge of Birds, but they still have many of its positive qualities: enjoyable banter between the two main characters, colorful secondary characters, exotic creatures and monsters, and a light-hearted humor. The biggest problem I had with both sequels was getting lost in all the esoteric ancient lore. Some of it was relevant to the story, but most seemed like baroque decoration that bogged the narratives down.

Still, all three novels are tremendously entertaining, and the first two even have moments of tremendous depth and poignancy. The price of the omnibus is worth it for Bridge of Birds alone, with The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen a nice bonus. ( )
  nsenger | Jan 29, 2017 |
This is an omnibus edition of three books set in sixth century China. Each book is a detective story with a mystery which Master Li, the ancient sage, and number ten Ox, his peasant friend and assistant have to solve.

Its very engagingly written, and convincingly plunges you into ancient China, but its very long - 650 odd pages. I probably should have just bought the first book separately. Mildly recommended. ( )
  Matt_B | Mar 23, 2014 |
FANTASTIC! Ran into this book at an eclectic store in Spokane, WA, called Boo Radly's. It lived up to everything that the cover said about it. ( )
  librken | Jul 4, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hughart, Barryprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Foster, JonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Contains the three books in the trilogy.:

Bridge of Birds
The Story of the Stone
Eight Skilled Gentlemen
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When the children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox found master Li Kao. Together they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure, and together they discover adventure and legend, and the power of belief...… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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