by Barry Hughart
Here is a tale of ancient China, of beautiful hand maidens, venerable sages and a stairway to Heaven made of a bridge of birds. Here, also, is a story of courage and endurance in the days when the Ancestress -- bloated and cruel -- is the real ruler of China. Number Ten Ox is a fit young peasant who shares his birthday with the moon. He lives in the village of Ku-Fu, where all the children between the ages of eight and thirteen lie stricken by a poison that will lead to death within a few months. Together with the sage, Li Kao, Ox must seek the Ginseng Great Root of Power -- which is the only antidote. But their quest involves a journey the Desert of Salt and imprisonment in the labyrinth of the evil Duke of Ch'in -- an immortal man whose heart beats, not in his body, but in a hidden casket -- from whose clutches no one has ever returned alive. Not understanding the significance of the weeping ghosts of Snowgoose, Little Ping and Autumn Moon, Ox and Master Li seek out the Wisest Man in the World -- before they realise their answer lies in a children's game that has passed down the generations.