When the village of Ku-fu is struck by a mysterious plague, the exceptionally strong but not particularly bright Number Ten Ox recruits the help of Li Kao, an elderly scholar "with a slight flaw in his character", in his quest for the Great Root of Power, a legendary ginseng root with the power to cure any ailment. During their quest, this odd couple will encounter a wide variety of strange characters, many of whom are more caricatures, and will get themselves wrapped up in more trouble than they have any right to survive. Their adventures are outrageous, told in a lighthearted and sometimes humorous tone. A couple of scenes had me laughing aloud and these are the highlights of the novel for me. The often ridiculous nature of the events had me imagining this novel as an animated film in the visual style of 2003's The Triplets of Belleville.
I found the supporting characters more interesting than the two main characters, though Li Kao is the more entertaining of those, but I think that is the very reason I did not enjoy this novel more than I expected to. Number Ten Ox, the narrator of the story, was plain and uninteresting to me. He seemed only to exist in the story to carry Master Li from place to place and to serve as a reasonable introduction to the character of Lotus Cloud. Other than that, he could have been omitted from the book and the story could have been told from the perspective of Master Li instead. Perhaps the point of Number Ten Ox's existence is to be the perspective of the reader, the normal person who is experiencing the magical and supernatural elements of this ancient China that never was with as much wonder and awe as the reader is meant to feel.
Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was is an interesting book. I have never read anything quite like it. I am not sure I will seek out the rest of the trilogy but I am grateful for the experience. Enough people seem to really love it that I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasies and is looking for something a little different from the standard swords and sorcery stories.