Ah Another adventure down with the eccentric Master Li, a genuis but with a slight flaw in his character and his former client now accomplice Number Ten Ox,as they set forth to solve a murder that seems to have been committed by a prince who has been dead for over seven hundred years What seems like a supernatural story, which could be laughing ridiculously at the intellect of the reader for believing the premise, ends up being nothing short of a Conan Doyle masterpiece or a Agatha Christie gem Barry Hughart, no doubt, is a brilliant writer who knows how to glue together a story using the right ingredients to create a tale, so engrossing that you wish for it to be true I did Its just too sad that he didn t get the necessary support that would have otherwise garnered him a reputation much glorious than what it is now.But I must admit, Story of the Stone is not as refreshingly awesome as Bridge of Birds, the predecessor to this one While that had a host of marvellous characters and loads of ancient tales, this book is to the point like an answer in a examination. In The Valley Of Sorrows, A Monk Is Brutally Murdered For A Worthless Manuscript, And The Abbot Of The Humble Monastery Calls Upon Master Li And Number Ten Ox To Investigate The Seemingly Senseless Killing The Most Likely Suspect Is The Infamous Laughing Prince, Founder Of The Valley, Whose Murderous Frenzies Have Made Him A Legend But Even Master Li Must Concede That The Prince Has A Pretty Good Alibi He S Been Dead For Than Seven Hundred YearsUndaunted, Master Li And Number Ten Ox Begin Their Search For The Laughing Prince Together They Roam A Mystical Countryside Populated By Demons, Ghosts, Murderers, And Mad Kings To The Very Gates Of Heaven Itself And What They Find There Is Even Stranger Still I hate to do this, I really do I loved Bridge of Birds A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was but I just can t get into this one I m reading an ebook and am 72% done and just don t care what happens I ve been trying to finish this book for a month now and just can t force myself to sit down and read I ve learned that I need character growth and development instead of just a story I was hoping to learn about Number 10 Ox Master Li in this book but while they are the main characters you learn nothing about them, their relationship, their past NOTHING It s a story for a stories sake and I guess I ve learned the difference in character driven plot driven novels I like character driven.There is so much mythology and history without the story behind it that I did t understand the significance of events until it is spelled out in it s entirety later on Even then it holds no significance TO ME For example SLIGHT SPOILERS but I m really not sure how much of a spoiler since I didn t finish Grief of Dawn hallucenates about a trip to the market Master Li questions her about it and gets and details but the reader has NO IDEA why It wasn t until much later in the book that Master Li explains that her hallucenated trip to the market couldn t have taken place any sooner than 700 years ago and that she was accurate enough in her descriptions of the people and time that she must have lived a life back then and is having memories from her previous life surface An annoying aspect of this revelation is that in the explination THE ENTIRE conversation hallucenation is repeated word for word It wasn t much after two completely repeated converstations that I had to put the book down. This is a wonderfully rich, imaginative fantasy mystery adventure told as a sort of epic fairy tale in ancient China The setting is magical, and the plot quite compelling and filled with all kinds of mystical nooks and crannies, however this didn t stack up quite as well for me as the author s previously published Bridge of Birds The story is quite dialogue heavy, and it just felt kind of flat and lacking in any real nuance or depth to me, as did much of the humor I enjoyed Bridge of Birds , and by comparison it felt polished. Following the inky trail begun in Bridge of Birds Hughart has given us the second of three absolutely glorious books books so good he stopped writing The Chronicles after finishing the third, having accomplished what he set out to do.Poignant, outright bawdy, delicate, ferocious, tearful, confusing, terrifying and triumphant, The Story of the Stone is a helluva read, and the Hell reference is literal the Hell of Chinese culture is a fascinating place and we get to meet it here I never knew the Great Wheel of Transformations assigns some souls to be demons and their demon ness is simply another manifestation of the great cycle of reincarnations and nothing at all Mephistofelian Quite comforting, given all the modern paranormal takes on things demonic.Hughart s writing seems as effortless as a leaf in a stream, moving us from rollicking peasant feasts in one paragraph The dancing started, which meant the fights would start shortly and I was very disappointed when Master Li decided to slip away and walk through the hills in the moonlight to the transcendent grace of little girls in the very next Little girls have large maternal instincts, and they take the Feast of Hungry Ghosts very seriously, and they were making their rounds with small lanterns made from candles inside rolled lotus and sage leaves I could feel ghosts all around us, moving toward the warmth of the sweet singing voices You are not alone, the girls sang, you are not forgotten, we care and understand, our own lives are but a candle flame from yours Hughart casually drops divinely beautiful prose throughout this enormously complicated, sometimes underground maze of a plot he s created from legend and fairy tale and hard telling what else I have the feeling he s remembered everything he s ever read, and he s clearly read quite a lot I never expected the tale of Gilgamesh to make an appearance but the Ancient Hunter is quietly, epically present Stone has some terrifically funny outright bawdiness and also one of the most poignant prayers I ve ever encountered Goddess, the world of men is a world of incomprehension Our senses are woefully limited Our brains are but tiny candles flickering in an infinity of darkness Our only wisdom is to admit that we cannot understand, and since we cannot understand we must do the best we can with faith, which is our only talent The greatest act of faith we are capable of is that of loving another than we love ourselves, and occasionally we can be quite good at it I read this the day after puerile psychopaths, pretending to one another that they were holy men, ambush murdered 130 unsuspecting, unarmed, innocent human beings in Paris on 13 Nov 2015 I found Hughart s writing, ostensibly about ancient Chinese culture, to be agonizingly applicable to modern times and cultures as well Show me a quest for personal immortality and I ll show you a path through a slaughterhouse, and the incense of personal divinity is the stench of other people s corpses The wisdom of Master Li is timeless and universal. Darker in tone and content than Bridge of Birds, The Story of the Stone links two mysteries, both about evil, where it comes from and how it can be overcome The title and the legend of the stone the book is centered on come from the classic 18th century novel Dream of the Red Chamber, continuing Hughart s tradition of drawing on actual Chinese history and mythology However, the actual plot is all Hughart s invention, which means it has insane zombie princes, secret identities, a trip to Hell, and a lusty, gorgeous young man who can and does seduce anyone he meets, male or female Li Kao is in perfect form here Ox is his usual honest and innocent self and their new companions Grief of Dawn and Moon Boy the aforementioned lusty young man make excellent additions to the team At certain points, I like this better than Bridge of Birds blasphemy , particularly the journey through Hell, and Li Kao s method of getting a forbidden copy of a nearly sacred writing is hilarious One minor problem is that Ox s own record shows that this takes place almost ten years after their first adventure, and yet Ox isn t any mature than he was as a teen However, this doesn t spoil my enjoyment of an excellent book. Barry Hughart s great trick is to make me think I m reading a convoluted story based on an intricate plot and lovably irredeemable characters, and in the last few pages I realize I m reading a poignant, beautiful myth that relates both the best and worst of human nature Hughart relies on good natured humor to great effect The Story of the Stone has many humorous elements but is never slapstick Master Li and Number Ten Ox continue to delight, with witty banter and a good deal of heart.While I like Bridge of Birds better, largely due to its splendid rogues gallery of characters, that s a bit like saying that I like the Enzo Ferrari a little better than the 458 Italia both are a damn sight better than most other things out there.I m also a bit mystified by the number of reviewers who have painstakingly cataloged Hughart s historical inaccuracies it s rather silly to expect historical accuracy from Hughart s ancient China that never was. Imagine Holmes and Watson, except instead of just being cerebral and brusque, Holmes is a tiny old man who actively delights in being a drunken, cantankerous bastard And Watson, rather than simply being a bit handy, is essentially a tank in human form, who when speed is necessary will literally carry the brains of the operation though for all that he s clearly the brawn, he s still considerably better at learning and applying his master s methods than Doyle s version ever was Oh, and their cases don t just skirt the uncanny, but will sometimes see them literally pursuing a hunch through the various levels of Hell That s Master Li and Number Ten Ox Their creator, Barry Hughart, died last month, unremarked even by Ansible until a whole month later, but then he hadn t published in nearly three decades, pissed off by publishers and convinced that in any case his work might not justify the seven volumes he d initially planned The first book won a couple of fantasy awards, which was probably the high water mark of his reputation this is the second, with one after it But back then he felt fantasy wasn t quite the right market for him, and now, though the historical whimsical mode with uncanny interruptions might be widely accepted, there s probably less of an appetite for books about an ancient China that never was written by a white guy from Peoria It should be noted, though, that this imagined China isn t some lazy grab bag of stuff that seems vaguely relevant, like when Hollywood tries to do mediaeval Europe ah, Ironclad it s a modern version of a classical form of Chinese novel, which was an underground Taoist form designed to fight back against Confucians Confucians liked to castrate people who fought the establishment Without mentioning names, the Taoists could use real emperors and real power structure in a fantasy form In other words, he knew his stuff, for whatever that s worth, rather than engaging in cheap exoticism Indeed, when it comes to murder mysteries set around a monastery and an impossible, deadly manuscript, I d take this over The Name of the Rose any day Though that s only the initial setting, because to solve the first puzzle Master Li needs to call in a favour, which in turn leads to a side quest, which then presents its own challenges, and so on exactly the sort of plot structure which can often become infuriating, but here carried off with such elan to the carefully orchestrated chaos that one could gladly have twice as many digressions Or at least, that was my response, but I like that sort of audacious high wire act in a plot, just as I like the deeply arch humour where many of the jokes are left largely implicit, while being able to see that it was never likely to win a mass audience Indeed, even the jokes which would once have been the crowd pleasers are likely less so now, not least the ones regarding a supporting character who, while exceptionally talented in other fields, is also an insatiable and incorrigible pederast But just when you think that might be getting a bit too retrogressive, suddenly all the main players are happily contemplating the prospect of a polyandrous relationship, which I imagine would have been equally Whuh to its original readers Not a book I can recommend without reservations, then definitely one I thoroughly enjoyed but, as Master Li always says when introducing himself, there is a slight flaw in my character. Master Li is happily drinking wine in the worst wine shop in China, but when the abbot of a monastery appears with a scrap of forged well, it has to be forged, doesn t it manuscript, he and Number Ten Ox, his apprentice, are off on their journeys Only a very junior prostitute can control the master of sound that they need, so she comes along with them It seems that the Laughing Prince has once been terrorizing the valley he used to rule that s before he died seven centuries ago and while he laughs, everyone else trembles in fear and horror Li and Ten Ox must go deep into hell looking for clues, but even that will not stop them. In this book Barry Hughart continues the exploration of Chinese history and myth that he started in Bridge of Birds Unlike that first book, the Story of the Stone is concerned with the myths and the philosophy, and is less humorous and good natured.It is still a pleasant read, even if it tries to be a bit didactic at times, and the two recurring characters are as lovable as ever, if a bit bloodthirsty.Recommended for those who like their myths with a different taste.
Hughart was educated at Phillips Academy Andover He attended Columbia University where he obtained a bachelor s degree in 1956.Upon his graduation from Columbia, Hughart joined the United States Air Force and served from 1956 to 1960 where he was involved in laying mines in the Korean Demilitarized Zone During Hughart s military service he began to develop his lifelong interest in China that
- Mass Market Paperback
- 289 pages
- The Story of the Stone
- Barry Hughart
- 04 October 2019 Barry Hughart