Monday, January 16, 2017

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

Bridge of Birds
A Novel of an Ancient China that Never Was
Barry Hughart
Book 1 of the Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox
Historical Fantasy


I pick up a lot of books with the intention to somedy read them. Bridge of Birds was one of those. With my enjoyment of martial art movies and samurai movies, I'm always on the lookout for fantastic fiction in that vein of genre.

Bridge of Birds is a novel of an Ancient China that never was, and while it has some supernatural elements to it, it is more of a detective story than anything.

The young and naive Number Ten Ox, the tenth son in his family, is strong as an Ox, but is not a great fighter nor a great swordsman.

Master Li on the other hand, is an enfeebled and ancient scholar who plays the role of detective and is also not a great fighter nor a great swordsman.

Despite that, these two get in a considerable amount of trouble.

In terms of writing style, Barry Hughart brings us the tale through the eyes of Number Ten Ox in first person view. It's a great method as Number Ten Ox has a great sense of observation and it makes the novel a fast read. It's also an entertaining novel that moves from one chapter to the next. Of the three books I've read this year, I've enjoyed this one the most.

The author uses repeition to bring home ideas and characters. If at the end of the novel you're not laughing at master Li Kao, a scholar wit ha slight flaw in his character, you're probably not going to enjoy the book as Hughart ties things together nicely with throw backs to earlier points.

The Ancient China that never was is filled with fantastical characters and monsters. There are mazes that flood, abandond cities surrounded by magma, guarded by an invisible mosnter of gigantic size known as the Unseen Hand. There are characters seeking redemption and unredeemable villains.

And in all this, the young and somewhat simple Number Ten Ox. A man on a mission to save the accidentally poisoned children of his small village. A man on the hunt for the Great Root of Power! The original Ginsing itself!

This also makes me smile as recently I had opportunity to go to a Korean resteraunt that specialized in all manner of foods that were prepared with Ginsing. Little bits of lore about the history of the plant as well as mythology of it were scattered throughout the novel.

In terms of it's telling, the book touches on a lot of genres and types. We have ancient myths that are sprinked with fairy tales. We have historical sounding bits added to ghost stories. We have pscyhological bits like racial memory added to deliberate attempts to destroy records of the past to ensure secrets are safekept.

I don't know how he does it, but Barry Hughart takes all these elements and blends them together into a story that's fun, fast paced, and makes you wonder not only how will this duo gete out of their current situation, but how will they get into the next one!

If you're interested in how the series sounds, I'd recommend the digital omnibus on the Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox. At $9.99 it's a little over $3 per e-book.