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The Bards of Bone Plain Hardcover – 7 Dec 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Ace Books (7 Dec. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441019579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441019571
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 3 x 21.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 469,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jess on 8 Dec. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well, what else could I expect from Patricia A McKillip? It's a beautifully written story with excellent characterisation and magic that is more than just waving a wand and chanting out some words. It's become a given to my friends and family that Ms McKillip is one of the only people who I would go even remotely fan-girl over.
The Bards of Bone Plain is very similar to Alphabet of Thorn in the focus on a figure of the past who then becomes legend and that might irritate some people because of those similarities- I personally liked the contrast of the chracter's legend and the character's true story.
The characters are well written and thought out and you don't always know which ones are bad and which are good which gives you something to think about as you read.
The prose -as anyone else who has read a book by Ms McKillip will know- is like poetry itself ('the music had begun to flow, fray into an unfinished phrase, a scattering of notes.') and draws you deep into the world she creates (so deep in fact that, much to my friends' amusement at college, while I was reading I was impervious to everything that was going on around me).
If you love fantasy where legend and truth meld together until you're never sure of where the magic stops then I'd say this is a good read for you.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By phoebes_mum on 6 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback
In present-day Caerau, Princess Beatrice helps uncover the past under the charge of the flamboyant entrepreneur Jonah Cle, while Jonah's son Phelan struggles to find an easy topic for his graduation essay from the College of Bards. A thousand years earlier, the peasant bard Nairn sees the individual kingdoms of his homeland swallowed up one by one by the invader Oroh, aided by Bardic magic wielded by his court mage, Declan. The war over, Nairn finds himself at Declan's newly-founded Bardic College, caught up in Declan's search for the land's own magic, lost a thousand years earlier still and now existing only in glimpses of folk memory: riddles and runes. In both times, a contest is held to appoint the new Royal Bard; and in both times a stranger appears, seemingly from nowhere, and possessing skills that seem to make him unbeatable. Nairn's attempt to best the stranger result in a disaster that will haunt him down the undying centuries - and, in the present time, it seems that similar disaster is inevitable.

This is a typical McKillip, beautifully, lyrically written, and filled with delightful, charming characters with whom it's a pleasure to spend time. It's also more plot-driven than some of her books; the interweaving of the two timelines is skilfully done, and gives the story additional depth and weight. If she has a weakness, it's that she doesn't really like writing villains, so that often her final confrontations are anti-climactic, as is somewhat the case here. A lovely book, nevertheless.

One nitpick - for some reason McKillip has latched onto the word `genial', and overuses it relentlessly. It gets bothersome after a while.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo TOP 500 REVIEWER on 14 Jun. 2011
Format: Hardcover
Phelan Cle is about to graduate Bardic School just like his father wanted him to. He, however, doesn't want to be a bard.

Believing he's taking the easy way out of his final paper, he chooses to do a thesis on Bone Plain, the place where all poetry begins and Nairn the Wanderer failed three trials and disappeared forever. As he dives into his research, though, the clues he finds provide a glimpse into Nairn's past and the mystery behind his disappearance.

Will Phelan find a way to solve an age-old mystery?

The characters are quirky, fun to read about, and leave the readers wanting to know more about them. The plot is tightly developed and holds the reader's interest. Those who like fantasy, adventure, and mysteries will enjoy reading THE BARDS OF BONE PLAIN.

Reviewed by: Kira M
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 43 reviews
44 of 57 people found the following review helpful
A Gem, A Jewel of a Book! 14 Dec. 2010
By Walt Boyes - Published on
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
28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Not my cup of tea 13 Jan. 2011
By Fascinating. - Published on
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. The Bards of Bone Plain is a watery, sweet tea compared to the spicier broth that is Alphabet of Thorn.
I will still buy McKillip's books, as there are many aspects of her work that I delight in. I love her quirky, playful side and did I mention her great descriptive powers? However, I will hope that her future works more fully incorporate all of her talents to create a masterful brew of soaring storytelling.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
"In This Land, the Bards Have Forgotten Their Magic..." 26 July 2011
By R. M. Fisher - Published on
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. Though they exist in what seems to be a quasi-Victoria period that comes complete with steam-powered cars and garden parties, alternating chapters take us back to the more typical medieval era that permeates the fantasy genre, revealing the actual history of the enigmatic Nairn and his journey from a pig-keeper to the tragic circumstances that earned him titles such as "the Unforgiven" and "the Wandering Bard."

As the story unfolds, these two plotlines begin to merge as the past inevitably rushes up to greet the present. As the mysteries of Nairn's past are revealed one by one, the present-day populace is absorbed with the upcoming competition that decides who holds the position of the king's court bard. Phelan's friend Zoe is the favorite among the competitors, but the arrival of a black-clad traveler from the north throws her victory into doubt. This visitor clearly knows more than he's letting on - more about Phelan's research and Beatrice's archeological discoveries, not to mention more about Bone Plain itself.

As always, McKillip's work must come with a disclaimer to new readers: that her prose and style will catch you off-guard with its dreamy, vague quality. Often it envelops the plot and characterization behind a veil of adjectives and similes that take a few seconds to untangle, but which always add to the richness and mystery of the reading experience. It is best described by K.Y. Craft's exquisite cover art: beautiful and intricate and filled with minute detail that demands close inspection.

There are a few slip-ups here and there: a last-minute romance seems tacked up and out-of-nowhere, and her main antagonist (if we can even call him that) is a little *too* ambiguous for his own good, but for the most part this is vintage McKillip. Her fascination with language, music, history, and the relationship between past and present are well utilized in previous books, and here they are refined and thematically connected into a satisfying arc of exploration and discovery. McKillip's characters are sparkling with life, though perhaps a little underdeveloped in this case, and she never gets bogged down in a quagmire of endless world-building and excessive detail. Best of all, McKillips's novels are self-contained. One does not have to collect a dozen or so books in order to get the complete story - here you will get a clear beginning, middle and end within the pages of a single book. If only other fantasists could be so generous to their readers!

"The Bards of Bone Plain" demands a re-read almost the very instant that you finish it, just to better appreciate the way its interconnected stories and characters relate to one another in light of the final chapters' revelations. Personally, I think it's one of McKillip's most accomplished works, though she has yet to dislodge Alphabet Of Thorn from its place as my absolute favorite.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Not my favorite McKillip 7 Mar. 2011
By City Witch - Published on
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. There's a certain self-consciousness in her work that I find quite offputting, but it's par for the course these days and I've come to expect it from her. The final star got shaved off my rating because so much of Bone Plain is a retread of her other, better, work.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Audio version 29 Jan. 2011
By Kat Hooper - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Patricia McKillip is a must-read author for any true lover of fantasy literature. With a voice all her own, she imbues her work -- both the story and the style -- with beauty, magic, and wonder. Her latest novel, The Bards of Bone Plain, is just as enchanting as I was expecting it to be. I listened to Audible Frontiers' version read by Marc Vietor and Charlotte Parry -- a nice combination.

Scholar Phelan Cle is nearly finished studying to be a bard and he's ready to graduate. He's chosen a fairly easy and unambitious topic for his final paper, something that's been written about many times before: the myth of Bone Plain. Is it a real place? If so, where is it and what happened there to Nairn, the legendary harpist who disappeared during the first bardic competition hundreds of years ago? Expecting to write a rather dull and inconclusive paper (like all the previous dull and inconclusive papers), Phelan is surprised to discover that his alcoholic father, archeologist Jonah Cle, knows more about Nairn's story than the scholars do. Finally, Phelan's interest is piqued, and he sets out in earnest to uncover the past.

Meanwhile, Princess Beatrice, is literally uncovering the past. Much to her mother's embarrassment, Beatrice prefers to hang out in Jonah Cle's underground archeological digs in her dusty dungarees rather than attend palace garden parties. When she unearths a strange piece of jewelry, she starts looking for the meaning of the unknown runes carved in it.

But she's not the only one interested in ancient runes. So is Kelda, the mysterious bard who's competing against all the other musicians who aspire to be the king's new court bard. Also competing is Phelan's friend Zoe, daughter of the palace steward who's helping Phelan with his data collection. During the competition, it all comes to a head as Phelan's research, Beatrice's ancient discoveries, and Zoe's talent collide.

The Bards of Bone Plain combines the arts and sciences (and mysteries) of archeology, music, language, and history, to create a multi-layered story that's sure to satisfy both sides of your brain. I enjoyed the academic atmosphere and the way that Phelan's research paper was used as alternating chapters to present Nairn's story. In the audiobook edition, only these chapters are read by Charlotte Parry so that they are clearly set apart.

The characters are well-done, though there are so many important ones that we don't get to know them all as well as we'd like to. I especially liked Princess Beatrice, who drives a steam-powered car and is always trying to balance her courtly duties with her dirty hobbies. She hates the social events she's required to attend, but she knows that if she pushes her mother too far, she'll be shipped off to the country to live with her sister's family. Beatrice's social blunders and her interactions with her family are delightfully humorous.

If you're familiar with Patricia McKillip, then you know she writes in a somewhat dreamy and fanciful style that, though lyrical and lovely, is occasionally misty and vague. While the plot of The Bards of Bone Plain is fairly straight-forward, McKillip's romantic style shrouds some aspects of the plot and characters in mysteries that are never completely cleared up. This sense of wonder is part of what makes her stories work so well as fantasy. The Bards of Bone Plain is another McKillip novel that leaves the reader in awe. It's a gorgeous story that celebrates the power of music, language, and love.
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