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Title: Bards of Bone Plain
Author: Patricia McKillip
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Format: Digital Edition
From the Wiki
The book is set in a culture reminiscent of the medieval era, but technologically near-modern, and in which archaeology is also an established profession. Scholar Phelan Cle of the Bardic School at Caerau chooses as his graduate thesis the subject of the perhaps mythical Bone Plain, where all poetry is said to have originated, and the tale of the wandering bard Nairn.
Meanwhile, archaeologist Jonah Cle, Phelan’s alcoholic father, pursues his own investigations, urged on by his dedicated disciple Princess Beatrice, the king’s youngest daughter. At the standing stones near the school is unearthed a strange artifact, a disk marked with ancient runes that may prove key to the mysteries of Bone Plain. Beatrice soon discovers indications of the lost language it represents everywhere.
Alternating chapters recount the activities of the Cles and the princess and the legend of Nairn, and gradually the present and past are revealed to mirror each other and ultimately fuse.
My Own Little Bit
Turns out Jonah is Nairn and that Welkin/Keldin is simply trying to reverse the curse Nairn brought upon himself from the first competition back in history. Jonah faces Keldin thinking he is taking his son’s place but Keldin uses it to restore to Jonah his musical ability. Everybody lives happily ever after and Phelan’s best friend Zoe Wrenn becomes the next Royal Bard, only now she knows about the magic in the music.
McKillip doesn’t let me down. The mystery of language is explored in her typical lyrical way and the journey is beautiful with the way she crafts her story. As I noted in my 2011 review (linked below), she doesn’t hide quite so much in poetic form so the overall story is easier to understand. I liked that last time but this time I’m not really so sure. I think I would have liked MORE mystery, not less!
McKillip has moved her writing from a straight Medieval to a late 1800th Century, with automobiles and the like while still having bards and bardic schools. The magic is a given though, while most people in the story have forgotten that magic even exists.
With this move forward in time McKillip also brings forward some more modern ideas and those are what will keep this from being a 5star read for me. Several times she has unmarried couples sleeping together and that being completely normal. It was more striking to me because of its absence in her other works.
I’ve only got a couple more McKillip books to read through before this cycle of re-reads is over and honestly, I can tell I’m going to miss her stuff. I simply love her writing!
And finally, I’m including the full art spread for the cover by Kinuko Craft. They’re just so beautiful.