I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
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.
My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character.
So says Master Li to Number Ten Ox when Ox is sent to the city to find a sage to assist his village, dealing with a mysterious disease. I personally was born in the Year of the Ox and therefore had a soft spot for Number Ten Ox.
This novel rated about 3.5 stars for me which, I hasten to add, I consider to be a good rating. I may have been reading Bridge of Birds at the wrong moment for me, as I am in a bit of a slump right now and finding it difficult to concentrate on the page. Or there may be a slight flaw in my character.
In many ways, BoB reminded me of reading Aesop’s fables—as a reader, I was very aware that the author was not in any way attempting to reconstruct Ancient China. He was using Ancient China for a fun backdrop to his own kind of fable, enjoying have different cultural elements to play with than are common in Western literature.
He did, however, borrow the trope of the shady character who really has a heart of gold and who uses his criminal talents for a good cause. I thought of Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat many times while reading Bridge of Birds. Master Li is the brains of the operation and Number Ten Ox is the brawn. That reminded me strongly of Fritz Leiber’s Ffafhrd and the Gray Mouser series. Some of Master Li and Number Ten Ox’s adventures may also have been influenced by the Indiana Jones movie franchise.
An enjoyable, fun book well suited to lunch-break reading.