In Bridge of Birds, Number Ten Ox, the peasant narrator of all three books, meets Master Li, once the foremost scholar in China. Master Li is now out of favor because of a slight flaw in his character. The children of Ox’s village have been poisoned, and there is only one antidote: the fabulous ginseng Great Root of Power.
The first stop in the search for the Root is Peking, where Master Li, one of the world’s greatest confidence men, acquires funds. Next Master Li and Ox visit the last known owner of the Root. They free a trapped ghost and steal the Root. This Root, though a ginseng root of great potency, is not the Great Root, which is, they learn, in the possession of the dreaded Duke of Ch’in. (The duke is a historical figure; he ascended the throne of China in 221 b.c.e., and China is named for him.) Master Li and Ox travel to the duke’s castle but are captured and barely escape with their lives. In the process, they find part of the Great Root and the kernel of a deeper mystery concerning the Princess of Birds. As their travels continue, they find additional fragments of the Great Root entangled with the other mystery. Finally, Ox and Master Li kill the duke, rescue the princess, and revive the children of Ox’s village.
In The Story of the Stone, Master Li and Ox investigate a murder in which the prime suspect, the Laughing Prince, supposedly has been dead for more than seven centuries. As in the previous book, a fabulous object is involved (the Stone), and at first its nature and purpose are unknown. Each discovery leads only to a deeper level of mystery. A succession of chance encounters are not chance at all, for there is no coincidence in the China of Master Li and Ox. The two meet an extraordinary pair, Moon Boy and Grief of Dawn, who turn out to have what they need to solve the puzzle.
At the Temple of Illusion, Master Li and Ox take a spirit journey to...
(The entire section is 800 words.)