Bridge of Birds

by Barry Hughart. St. Martin’s, $13.95. Mr. Hughart’s novel is set in “an ancient China that never was”; this subtitle gives the reader fair warning that the tale will be fantastic. It is highly fantastic, full of wild coincidences, outrageous monsters, spirits malign or beneficent, bits of folklore and fairy tale, and sly parodies of the world we know. It is also fast-moving, often funny, and always well written. Mr. Hughart is a valuable recruit to the school of fantasy fiction.