From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. World Fantasy Award–winner McKillip (The Bell at Sealey Head) offers a rich, resonant story of poetry, riddles, mystery, and magic. Phelan Cle never wanted to be a bard--that's his decidedly unmusical father's ambition for him--but now that he's about to graduate from Bardic School at Caerau, he's determined to make it easy on himself. He chooses what should be a straight-forward thesis topic: Bone Plain, where legend says all poetry originated, where Nairn the Wanderer, the Fool, the Cursed, the Unforgiven, one of the greatest bards in history, failed the mysterious Three Trials and disappeared forever. History surrounds the school and the nearby standing stones, where archaeologist Princess Beatrice digs up an unusual artifact that may hold the key to the mysteries of Bone Plain. McKillip seduces readers with lyrical prose; intriguing, complex characters; and resonant riddles-within-riddles. (Dec.)
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Readers already familiar with the author will enjoy a fascinating tale of music and bards, legends and reality, and, most of all—magic. For those exposed to McKillip for the first time, a treasure awaits them in the pages of this story. Set in a medieval-like period, where kings still rule and their courts are the center of the social order, the book throws in a more modern element of archaeology, with its constant reach into the past, seeking explanations. The story starts with Phelan Cle and his enigmatic father, characters who become exquisitely developed over the course of the tale. Woven in alternating chapters is the legend of Nairn, the Wandering Bard. The reader is pulled from the current trials and tribulations occurring in Phelan’s life into the legend of Nairn, until the reality and the legend slowly become mirrors of each other, and then finally fused together. Almost (Thomas) Hardy-ish in the level of description, the author never loses the reader in description for description’s sake. Each element described serves to further the story. --Rebecca Gerber