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The Bards of Bone Plain Paperback – December 6, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ace; Reprint edition (December 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1937007235
  • ISBN-13: 978-1937007232
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,074,358 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Walt Boyes on December 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been reading Patricia A. McKillip since her very first novel came out, and I think she is one of the most creative imaginers and certainly one of the most sophisticated writers of fantasy of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. From that vantage I think "The Bards of Bone Plain" is the best she's done in many years.

Not, of course, that any of her books are less than elegant and wonderful. Not so. But "The Bards of Bone Plain" is incredibly tightly written, and its fusion with a lightly glossed steampunk quasi-Victorian kingdom and the centuries-long quest of an immortal bard for his lost music just plain works seamlessly. You believe that you can simply step sideways from the mundane to the magical and back, easily and painlessly.

Her characters are well-drawn and are clear and clever enough to spawn one of those BBC miniseries where sparkling dialog is the chief hallmark of civilization. The bemused king watching his youngest daughter be more interested in archaeology than "princessing," while his queen fumes is worth a couple of guffaws and a hiccup. The sad quest of Jonah Cle for his lost magic after failing the three tests on Bone Plain centers the book and provides a sobering thread throughout.

This, here, is the real deal, folks. If this isn't one of the finalists for the World Fantasy Award in 2011, there ain't no justice.

Walt Boyes
Active Member SFWA
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Fascinating. on January 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I've read most of Patricia McKillip's books over the years, and always look forward to her densely poetic fables dealing with one or more of her favorite themes: magic, music, language, scholars and usually a few cameo appearances featuring beautifully described foods. I am familiar with the parallel plotlines, often alternating from chapter to chapter, and often fancy I can catch a glimpse here and there of my native Oregon in her descriptions of the landscape. I enjoy the thoughtful, image-rich meditations in which she steeps her stories, although I can't always understand the point she is driving at. But this only leaves room for re-reading, as I know I'll always discover something new in her work. Also, I have to mention that Kinuko Craft's beatiful artwork is a perfect complement to the beauty of the stories found within the covers of the books.
This book is not devoid of any of the aforementioned features, and it does have a coherent, straigtforward story. However, I found the plot almost too simple. I could see pretty much the whole trajectory early on in the book, and while that is not necessarily a fatal detriment in work as poetic as McKillip's, I found myself a bit bored with the characters as well. They seemed fairly one-dimensional, save for Nairn, Declan and the mysterious Welkin, who remained a bit too wrapped in mystery for my satisfaction.
Another of McKillip's works, Alphabet of Thorn, is similarly straightforward in plot, but throws in a lot more intersting twists and features more complex characters. Also, the mysterious language which is driving the plot in Alphabet has a more satifying reveal than the runes of The Bards of Bone Plain, which, like Welkin, are never fully delineated in all their glory.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Fisher TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Patricia McKillip does it again! Unique among fantasy writers for her dreamy prose, her ability to meld complex characterization with original fairytale plots, and her ability to slip in a clever twist or two before the story's end, McKillip returns to form after the slightly lackluster The Bell at Sealey Head (great build-up, terrible climax) with "The Bards of Bone Plain."

For his final school essay, Phelan Cle decides to write about Bone Plain, the mysterious plain-lands where his eccentric father Jonah spends most of his days excavating for lost riches. Dotted with standing stones and the subject of many poems and ballads in the bardic tradition, Phelan assumes it'll be an easy topic with which to complete his education. But he soon finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into the ancient records that recount the history of the bard Nairn, an enigmatic figure linked closely with Bone Plain.

Phelan's discoveries are connected to the Princess Beatrice's own work alongside his father on the plain. Uninterested with the life of a princess, Beatrice spends her days among Jonah Cle's archeologists as they dig up the relics of the old bard school, hoping to glean some understanding of the past. The comedic aspect of this novel concerns Beatrice's attempts to avoid her family's obsession with impending weddings and her disapproving mother's constant threats to remove Beatrice to the more lady-like setting of a faraway relative's house.

But there is a parallel plotline at work alongside Phelan and Beatrice's sojourns into the past.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By City Witch on March 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Bone Plain has two connected storylines, one in the 'present' and one in the 'past.' The protagonists are Phelan and Princess Beatrice in the current day, Nairn in the past. For some reason another bardic student also narrates pieces of the 'present' tale, but these are mercifully brief. Of the two stories I found Nairn's more compelling, possibly because he actually seemed invested in it, where Beatrice and Phelan came across as detached from their own lives, with the sole, bright exception of Beatrice's dismay when threatened with a summer in the country with her sister's family.

McKillip is an incredibly talented author who writes in beautiful, almost poetic prose. Unfortunately, there needs to be more to a book than that, and this time she didn't provide enough of it. The mystery was obvious to me from the beginning, so it was less a matter of watching in fascination as things unfolded than of waiting in impatience for the characters to catch up. The plot itself didn't hang together. Some things never made sense, and at the end we are left with many unanswered questions. Together those things cost this book a star. Then there was the bizarre, out-of-nowhere romance (and by romance I mean that two characters randomly wake up in bed together). That cost it another. The story didn't need a romance; having decided on one, McKillip should have done it justice. The characters themselves were interesting people. I wanted to get to know them better than I did. McKillip did something here I haven't seen in a classical type fantasy before--she included technology, science and progress. That was a treat. McKillip tends to sit astride the border between poetry and vagueness in her writing--this time she leaned over into the vague side.
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