So, I finished off 2012 with Patricia McKillip’s The Bards of Bone Plain. Usually, I find her work to be beautiful and dreamy, but a bit too flowy and hazy; very often, I find myself getting lost in the lovely prose and losing track of the story. It’s like looking at something through a veil – you can still see it, but it’s softened and unclear. In this case however, McKillip hit just the right balance between spellbinding prose and clarity of story. I always knew where I was, and because of that, I was able to relax and let myself be swept away both the language and the narrative.
The story follows the young scholar, Phelan Cle, as he researches the mystical Bone Plain for his final project at the bardic academy. Alongside him, his father, Jonah Cle, and Princess Beatrice dig through ancient ruins, trying to piece together the past bit by bit. Both of these pursuits are interrupted by the eerie bard, Kelda, that comes to court to play in the next bardic competition – a trial in which one of Phelan’s close friends, Zoe, is competing. These four plot bits are all tied up within the legend of Nairn, an ancient bard associated with Bone Plain.
It isn’t unusual for McKillip to weave that many separate story arcs together, and usually, that’s part of the reason that she loses me as a reader. This time, they all blended together harmoniously and enhanced each other, rather than competing with each other for my attention.
As always, her prose are lyrical and hypnotizing, which is the biggest reason why I keep returning to her works. I love how she makes her language reflect the mystery and magic that she’s writing about. And, unrelated to that point, the cover art is absolutely gorgeous – much like the cover art for The Tower at Stony Wood.
I actually can’t think of anything that I particularly disliked about this book. The premise of linking magic and music has become pretty common today (though I do think she is one of the original propagators of that theme), so it’s nothing groundbreaking there, but it is a good solid read by an author who obviously loves language and knows how to use it. Fantasy lovers, English majors, and music lovers alike will enjoy this book in equal measure.