Wowza. Seriously, that’s the only word that is coming to mind right now. And that’s not a word I say very often.. or ever.
Eight Skilled Gentlemen by Barry Hughart completely took me by surprise. This was another one of those books that a friend loaned me for Fantasy Summer, and it took me a year to get to it. Partially because of how many books were loaned to me. Partially because I thought it looked old and uninteresting. Partially because I wasn’t excited after reading the back cover blurb.
I’m trying to get through as many of those borrowed books as I can before June when I start tackling books that I own but haven’t read. So after finishing Storm Front, I picked up Eight Skilled Gentlemen because I felt like it. I felt like starting it, realizing it wasn’t my style, then returning it to my friend.
…. that didn’t happen. I started it and stayed up way later than intended. I fought for extra reading time every day. 5 minutes early to a meeting? Read. Dinner needs to simmer 8 more minutes? Read. My husband’s on the phone with his brother? Read, read, read.
Eight Skilled Gentlemen was published in 1991 but takes place in “the China that never was” in 600 A.D. It’s enchanting, hilarious, and not too magical – which is quite my taste. You’re thrown right into the world from the get-go, and it took me a few pages to get hooked, but once I was, I WAS. I was in 7th century China. I was running around with Master Li and Number Ten Ox trying to solve a mystery. I was meeting endearing, real, hilarious characters that all have a story and all have quirks.
The writing is poetic, subtle, and unique. I was so sad to learn that Barry Hughart only has 3 published works – I plan on seeking out the two others (which apparently came out before Eight Skilled Gentlemen) as soon as possible!
The only downfall for me was that there was a touch more gore than I normally read, so it was a bit jarring a first. But if you’re looking for something different, something fun, and something with characters that you’ll absolutely love, pick up Eight Skilled Gentlemen. I’m a unexpected fan.