''Bridge of Birds,'' the first installment in Barry Hughart's literary trilogy ''The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox,'' is a fantasy novel taking place in a version of ancient China wherein the regional folk tales and Taoist myths are all true. The gods really do meddle in the affairs of mortals (but subtly, for reasons of etiquette) and minor bits of magic can be found anywhere.

Lu Yu, nicknamed Number Ten Ox because of his birth order and great strength, is a humble peasant living in the village of Ku-fu, content to spend his days farming and assisting with the annual silk harvest...until one year when the abject failure of the harvest coincides with a devastating plague that infects the children--and ''only'' the children--of the village. Ox's aunt sends him to Peking with money in order to hire a wise man to solve the mystery, and he winds up with one Li Kao, an antiquated drunkard who keeps company with bandits and thugs. But despite these "slight flaws in his character," Master Li also has a well-developed sense of justice and quite possibly the keenest mind in all China, and he eagerly joins--in fact, he takes command of--Ox's quest to save the children. A quest that ultimately takes them into every conceivable corner of China, into bustling cities and deep caverns and across deserts and mountain ranges, to do business and battle (sometimes simultaneously) with brilliant scholars, horrifying monsters, scheming noblewomen, obsessive businessmen, demigods, and not a few tormented ghosts.

The writing style is lush and poetic yet semi-conversational in tone, featuring devices such as alliteration, humorous exaggeration and understatement, and casual references to Chinese history and folklore. The tone is a wonderful blend of action, drama, comedy, and even romance, along with an engaging theme of mystery and discovery as Ox and Master Li gather and put together the pieces of the puzzle. Although short as fantasy novels go--it clocks in at under 300 pages--it nonetheless contains more ''story'' than many a conventional DoorStopper.

Hughart wrote two sequels--''The Story of the Stone'' and ''Eight Skilled Gentlemen''--which have been published in an omnibus edition with their precursor.
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!!Contains examples of:

* AdaptationalAttractiveness: An in-universe example. [[spoiler:Jade Pearl is described in a folk tale as the most beautiful girl in the world who the Star Shepherd falls in love with, but Master Li realizes that a sensible person like the Star Shepherd would have valued a smile that held all the joy and wonder in the world over mere physical beauty. Like, say, Lotus Cloud's.]]
* AlwaysChaoticEvil: All the Dukes of Ch'in. [[spoiler:Justified since [[MyGrandsonMySelf they are all the same man.]]]]
* ApocalypticLog: In the city destroyed by The Hand That No One Sees.
* AssholeVictim: One of Li Kao's plans involves murder, and he hopes to find someone who deserves to be offed. He does.
* AwesomeMomentOfCrowning: [[spoiler:On a divine level.]]
* AxeCrazy: [[spoiler:[[BewareTheNiceOnes Henpecked Ho]]]], [[AnAxeToGrind literally]]. Arguably justified, considering the indignities he'd endured for so many years.
* BadassGrandpa: Master Li.
* BambooTechnology: Literal in the case of the Bamboo Dragonfly.
* BeatStillMyHeart
* BigEater: The porcupine merchant
* BrainsAndBrawn: Master Li and Number Ten Ox, respectively.
* CatchPhrase: "My surname is Li, my personal name is Kao, and [[HeroicComedicSociopath there is a slight flaw in my character]]."
* ChekhovsGun: Too many to list, and all pretty clever.
* ChekhovsGunman: Likewise.
* ChekhovsSkill: Again, likewise.
* TheChessmaster: [[spoiler: The August Personage of Jade.]]
* ComicSutra: Good luck figuring out what exactly "Six Doves Beneath the Eaves on a Rainy Day" is supposed to look like.
** That said, most of the other named positions do appear in Chinese sex manuals, with named defensibly translated as Hugart does, and are used appropriately in the story.
* ContractualGenreBlindness: The Duke of Ch'in deliberately acts like a villain out of fairy tales, incidentally providing his foes with [[WorthyOpponent a fair chance to beat him]]. However, this is ''not'' out of a sense of fairness--it's because he's [[TheManBehindTheCurtain more frightened and confused than he tries to show]].
* ContrivedCoincidence: Too many to list. Let's just say that characters keep on bumping back into each other with alarming frequency. [[spoiler:Turns out to be justified, as someone up in the heavens ''really'' wants the heroes to succeed in their quest.]]
* DarkerAndEdgier: ''Literature/BridgeOfBirds'' reads like the scarier, sexed-up, long-lost older brother of ''Literature/{{The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen}},'' with more [[DeathTrap Death Traps.]]
* DeusExMachina: [[spoiler:Half-literally, although GodsHandsAreTied.]]
* DevotedToYou: Lotus Cloud.
* TheDogWasTheMastermind: Master Li [[TheReveal reveals]] in a WhamLine that [[spoiler:the Key Rabbit, who has been depicted up to this point as a meek, cowardly man forced to be the accessor of the Duke of Ch'in, is actually the Duke of Ch'in himself]].
* EvilMatriarch: The Ancestress, who corrupted the Sui dynasty to ruin, slaughtered millions of peasants for the vanity of having people die on her extravagant projects, and [[KarmaHoudini ultimately, using her weak-willed step-son as a scapegoat, got away scot-free to live a life of decadent luxury and bitter plotting to restore her reign]]. [[spoiler: Fortunately, once her tenure as an ArcVillain is over, Henpecked Ho settles with her and her evil clan off-page.]]
* EvilOverlord: The Duke of Ch'in.
* FateWorseThanDeath: The handmaidens.
* FindTheCure: The impetus for the entire plot.
* FingerLickingPoison: Mentioned, but not actually part of the plot.
* GenreSavvy: Master Li--"You and I are wandering blindfolded through a myth devised by a maniac."
* GodsHandsAreTied
* HeartTrauma: "A man with no heart likes things cold."
* HenpeckedHusband: The appropriately nicknamed Henpecked Ho.
* HistoricalVillainUpgrade
* InnocuouslyImportantEpisode: Anything that happens and isn't immediately important will be important later.
* IfICantHaveYou: [[spoiler:Fainting Maid--with MurderTheHypotenuse thrown in for good measure.]]
* ISeeDeadPeople: A rare case where this is a learned skill. Master Li can do it, and he teaches it to Number Ten Ox. As for the ghosts themselves, they [[GroundhogDayLoop repeat their deaths over and over]] until either the loop is broken, or their [[GhostlyGoals reason for remaining]] is removed. They wear JacobMarleyApparel, and it's uncertain whether they know they're dead, though some seem to do.
* IJustWantMyBelovedToBeHappy: Henpecked Ho, poor fella. Also, Number Ten Ox at the end, when he [[spoiler:rejects Lotus Cloud's offer to stay with him in favor of restoring her identity as the Princess of Birds, even though it means that he will never see her again]].
* IncorruptiblePurePureness: Number Ten Ox, according to Master Li. "When I run into something that is really foul, I can counter with the potential for foulness that resides in the depths of my soul... You, on the other hand, suffer from an incurable case of purity of heart."
* InvisibleMonsters: [[NamesToRunAwayFromReallyFast The Hand That No One Sees]], which turns out to be [[spoiler: a GiantSpider]].
* KavorkaMan: Lotus Cloud is one of the ever-elusive female examples of this trope.
* LamarckWasRight: The origin of Master Li's "slight flaw." [[spoiler: His parents were criminals who robbed the Duke of Ch'in while his mother was pregnant with him, and were caught because of their greedy squabbling. The abbot who raised him had to contend with his nature asserting itself, though Master Li eventually became a reasonably virtuous man on his own. Partly because crime was boring, and solving it exciting, but baby steps.]]
* LandOfDragons: This is "a novel of an ancient China that never was," to which the book blurb adds, "But oh, it should have been!" Gets credit for having a more developed world that the description would imply. And only one dragon, on a little necklace.
* LongList: What you tend to get if you ask Henpecked Ho a simple question.
* LoveMakesYouEvil: [[spoiler:Miser Shen began hoarding money so he could afford to revive his dead daughter. The hoarding became a compulsion, and he [[MotiveDecay forgot why he was doing it in the first place.]]]]
** Also subverted: [[spoiler:His love for Lotus Cloud later moves him to squander all his wealth on gifts for her, which makes him go sane again.]]
* MadScientist: Doctor Death.
* MadnessMantra: "Chop-chop. Chop-chop-chop!"
* MalevolentArchitecture
* AManIsNotAVirgin: One of the first things Master Li does once he and Number Ten Ox set out is, for lack of a better term, get him ''laid''. [[spoiler: This is largely to counteract his IncorruptiblePurePureness, though it doesn't really take.]]
* MasochistsMeal: Porcupine meat, if improperly prepared, will kill you horribly.
* TheMaze: Lots.
* MeaningfulEcho: Number Ten Ox and Fainting Maid's first stroll through the gardens leads to an argument about whether a bird is a cuckoo or a magpie imitating a cuckoo. Later on, when Master Li has [[spoiler:exposed Fainting Maid as the murderess of her father's concubine and lover and [[AssholeVictim induced her to faint right into a deep well]]]], he tells her father, "You are perfectly free to hear whatever you choose, but what I hear is a magpie that is imitating the sounds of [[spoiler:a scream and a splash]]."
* MeaningfulName: Many of them, including Fainting Maid and [[spoiler:Lotus Cloud, when you consider that "Lotus" is the flower of forgetfulness and "Cloud" implies obscurity or veiling...]].
* MoneyFetish:
** Lotus Cloud is known as the most expensive woman in all of China with good reason, although her greed extends to only pearls and jade. Anything else, and she instantly loses interest. [[spoiler:The true reason for her yearning for pearls and jade turns out to not be simple greed, but a subconscious yearning for her true identity named Jade Pearl]].
** Anyone, who makes himself invulnerable by removing his heart, acquires an overwhelming lust to obtain and handle "cold things": treasure in all forms.
* MotiveDecay: Surprisingly averted. The Master Li and Number Ten Ox go through many epic adventures [[spoiler: such as becoming the wealthiest men in China and meeting [[GodInHumanForm gods in human form]]]], all to save the children of the village.
* MurderIsTheBestSolution
* MrViceGuy: There is a slight flaw in Li Kao's character (more than one flaw, actually, if you count "alcoholism" and "willingness to rob and murder people to achieve your goals" as two separate traits), but he's still unquestionably on the side of good and most of the more morally dubious actions he commits are done to people who [[PayEvilUntoEvil thoroughly deserved it]].
* MyGrandsonMyself: [[spoiler: The Duke]].
* NamesToRunAwayFromReallyFast: The Hand That No One Sees. Yes. Start running ''now.''
* NeedleInAStackOfNeedles: Subverted. Master Li thinks that this is what the Duke has done with the MacGuffinGirl... when the truth is far simpler and more brilliant.
* TheNicknamer: Lotus Cloud gives all of her suitors cutesy nicknames like "Boopsie", "Woofie", and "Pooh-Pooh".
* OldMaster: Master Li, in spite of the slight flaws in his character.
* PlotCoupon: The bell, the ball and the flute, and the parts of the Great Root.
* {{Polyamory}}: Number Ten Ox, [[spoiler: Miser Shen]], and all of Lotus Cloud's other lovers tend to get along famously, in part because all of them are decent people deep down. Master Li jokes that she ought to build a kennel for them. [[spoiler: This is a hint as to her [[GodInHumanForm true nature]]. Li eventually realizes that while this lack of jealousy makes no sense in romantic terms, it makes ''perfect'' sense for a goddess. Suitors might be jealous, but '''worshippers'''...]]
* PrehensileHair: [[spoiler: The murdered handmaidens.]]
* ReallySevenHundredYearsOld: Several characters, [[spoiler:most notably the Duke.]]
* RenaissanceMan: Master Li knows about topics ranging from chemistry to astronomy to Egyptian mythology. He is also fluent in Latin.
* TheReveal: A couple of [[WhamLine Wham Moment]]-y ones.
* RoyalBrat: Pretty much all the descendants of the Ancestress. Fainting Maid is the most prominent example.
* RunningGag: ''"What have you done with my ''{precious item}''?!"''
* ShowyInvincibleHero: It never quite feels like our heroes are in any ''real'' danger, but there is great fun in seeing their plans to get out of it.
* SoftWater: Number Ten Ox and Li Kao manage to survive a suicidal hundred-foot leap at one point by merely landing in a calm pool of water and avoiding a jagged rock in there by six inches.
* SoulJar
* SpiritualSuccessor: To the ''Kai Lung'' stories of the early 20th century.
* StarcrossedLovers: Over and over.
* [[MillionToOneChance Ten Thousand Billion Trillion To One Chance]]
* TitleDrop
* TogetherInDeath: Several instances.
* TheTriadsAndTheTongs: Master Li fakes being a member.
* TheWatson: [[IncorruptiblePurePureness Number Ten Ox]], to [[MagnificentBastard Master Li]].
* WhenSheSmiles: Lotus Cloud.
* WhoWantsToLiveForever: Well, becoming a deity isn't so bad, but removing your heart also [[TheStoic makes you kind of inhuman.]]
* YouDontWantToCatchThis: [[CrowningMomentOfFunny RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! IT IS THE PLAGUE OF THE TEN THOUSAND PESTILENTIAL PUTRESCENCES!]]
* YouKilledMyFather: Master Li considers the Duke his ancestral enemy, because one of the Duke's ancestors killed his parents (actually, they were a couple of thieves, who stole the soldiers' payroll, squabbled over the loot, and were mortally wounded by the pursuers, but meh... close enough). Later he learns one important detail: [[spoiler:all the Duke's "ancestors" were actually the immortal Duke.]]

''The Story of the Stone'' contains examples of:

* AnythingThatMoves: Moon Boy. Up to and including a ten-feet-tall demon!
** He does stick to males, though, much to Grief of Dawn's annoyance.
* ArcWords: "Fraud and forgery! Paint slapped over dry rot and gilded with lies!"
* BandOfBrothels: The guildmistress is called the Captain of Prostitutes, and she is the most powerful woman in China.
* CelestialBureaucracy: Hellish bureaucracy in this case.
--> Demons bowed to trolls, who bowed to ogres, who bowed to devils.
* ChineseVampire: Lurching, strangling, and soul-stealing variety, not the hopping one. The name is transcribed as ''chiang shih''.
* MadArtist: Not the usual kind, though.
* NoodleIncident: ''"I tied the other end of a tarred rope around the corpse's legs, and it slid silently beneath the surface and drifted down to join the others."'' It is mentioned that "the others" are described in lost volumes of ''Memoirs of Number Ten Ox'', which were destroyed by Imperial Censors.
* OddJobGods: The guild of prostitutes even petitions Heaven for a new patron deity, as the current one isn't tough and crafty enough.
* ReallyGetsAround: Moon Boy.

''Eight Skilled Gentlemen'' contains examples of:
* EatTheEvidence
* FoodPorn: Sixth-Degree Hosteler Tu expounds on food quite frequently, as it's his second great obsession (the first being murder). Also possibly averted in the sequence where Master Li and Yen Shih [[spoiler: [[EatTheEvidence prepare The Snake's body into a grand feast for their hosts]]]], depending on your constitution and/or [[CrowningMomentOfFunny sense of humor]]. Ox spends the duration trying not to throw up.
* ScoobyDoobyDoors
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