Select one of the keywords
The Bards of Bone Plain    by Patricia A. McKillip order for
Bards of Bone Plain
by Patricia A. McKillip
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Master fantasist Patricia A. McKillip writes elegant, powerful tales that linger in a reader's memory, including genre classics like Riddle Master of Hed and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. In these and many other memorable stories (including Song for the Basilisk, Ombria in Shadow, Alphabet of Thorn, and Od Magic) she tackles themes of the abuse of power, vengeance and forgiveness, obsession and love.

The 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.

Having 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 'cautionary tale' 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' voice.

The 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.

Back 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 king's bard - Zoe, Phelan and Kelda all enter ... and 'All the magic and the poetry, the ancient voices of this land' dangerously erupt.

The 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 Shelves or in our book Reviews