The Bards of Bone Plain
Patricia A. McKillip
Penguin, 2010 (2010)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
aster fantasist Patricia A. McKillip writes elegant, powerful tales that linger in a reader's memory, including genre classics like
Riddle Master of Hed
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
. In these and many other memorable stories (including
Song for the Basilisk
Ombria in Shadow
Alphabet of Thorn
) she tackles themes of the abuse of power, vengeance and forgiveness, obsession and love.
he Bards of Bone Plain
follows two story lines, past and present. In the latter, set in the royal city of Caerau, readers meet senior bardic student Phelan Cle and his unmusical archeologist father Jonah (the absent-minded sort who's continually being tracked down by his son with reminders of social obligations). Lacking a topic for his final paper, Phelan has decided to select '
Something easy ... the standing stones of Bone Plain.
' His research uncovers old secrets.
aving almost completed his studies, Phelan has teaching duties and instructs his own students on the
Three Trials of Bone Plain
and the many bards who took and failed the tests, including the '
' of '
Nairn the Wanderer, the Fool, the Cursed, the Unforgiven
'. A student pushes him to share the magical '
secrets of the bardic arts
', but Phelan knows of none. Phelan is a friend of guest bard Zoe Wren, who has a '
rare and wonderful
he second storyline follows Nairn, youngest of seven sons, as he wanders '
into his destiny.
' He plays and gathers music, and encounters Declan, a bardic spy for invading barbarian King Oroh. When Nairn sings, the jewels leave Declan's glorious harp and come to him. Recruited as a piper and drummer by the local king, Nairn watches as his monarch's army is destroyed by Declan's magic. Though he flees for a time, he ends up at the foreign bard's new school on Stirl Plain. Declan teaches him an ancient, powerful language. Then come death and disaster and Nairn disappears.
ack in the modern story, despite her mother's strong disapproval, Princess Beatrice works under Jonah Cle at his archeological digs (luckily her father the king is fascinated by ancient artifacts). After a new bard, Kelda, arrives at court, he mesmerizes many of the students, but Jonah is hostile to him. After a disturbing accident, a competition is called to find a new
- Zoe, Phelan and Kelda all enter ... and '
All the magic and the poetry, the ancient voices of this land
' dangerously erupt.
he Bards of Bone Plain
is a wonderful, musical tale of ambition and power, regret and redemption, subtle magics, and love in all its forms. Patricia A. McKillip is herself a master bard and her latest story is not to be missed.
Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.
Find more Fantasy books on our
or in our book