The real problem with any truly special story is that doing it again is difficult. Especially if you take the same characters and find a new story for them to fit into as well as they did the first. This a large part of the heart of “sequelitis”. I’d been warned that The Story of the Stone suffered from it.

Not so much. It is not as good as the original Bridge of Birds, but it is close, and a lot of what makes the original work is here. Overall, I’d say the plot here is more of a mess, which is where the book tends to fall short. But what makes Hugart’s writing work is his simultaneously a sympathetic deep-dive into Chinese myth, folklore, and history, and a satire of the same. There’s little details scattered all over, and I have to wonder how much is made up whole-cloth, and how much traces at least the seed of the idea to some actual folklore. Some of it is obviously based on real myths and tales, which makes me wonder about parts that seem to be there because of story demands.

But what makes all that work, and is carried over from the first book is an honest sense of wonder and joy in telling a tale. In Hugart’s hands even some thoroughly nasty people contribute to some very fun scenes. Really, that’s what these books are about, a bit of fun, a bit of whimsy. Anyone to takes Master Li seriously deserves to.

As would be expected from the first book, we go on the road again, and make quick visits to several locales. But the Valley of Sorrows dominates the book, as this time Li and Number Ten Ox are off to solve a mystery. As with anything Master Li touches, it turns out to be more than it first appears, and like any good classic mystery it is obvious from the start that something truly odd is going on, even if it does have a perfectly reasonable explanation.

In short, I’m sorry have taken so long to get around to continuing to read about these two mis-matched partners. It stands alone perfectly well, and you can easily start here. I recommend starting with Bridge of Birds anyway, because I found the conclusion to that book to really get into the sense of wonder I mentioned, and this one nearly matches it in several points, but never quite gets there.