Friday, April 6, 2012

No one writes books like Patricia McKillip any more.


I think lyrical epic fantasy novels mostly went out after the '80s. Nancy Springer and Tanith Lee have moved on to other things, but McKillip carries on writing gorgeous tapestry-like fantasy novels, each one lovelier and more magical than the last.

The Bards of Bone Plain concerns a bustling college of music, located on a windy plain studded with strange standing stones.

Phelan Cle is ready to graduate from the school and move on with his life, while his alcoholic, absent father Jonah busies himself with digging up archaeological wonders from beneath the city. Phelan's final research paper concerns the ancient poems and bardic tales of the realm, including the oldest of them all, the strange riddle-song of Bone Plain.

Legend has it that centuries ago, the bard Nairn failed the riddle-challenge of Bone Plain and passed into legend as the Wanderer, the Cursed, the Unforgiven Bard.

Phelan's research into the fate of Nairn begin to intertwine with events in his own day. The realm's Royal Bard suddenly decides to retire, and a great bardic competition is arranged to select the new Royal Bard. A strange, dark-eyed bard named Kelda obviously wants to win. Is Kelda using magic to influence the competition? What does Kelda know about Nairn? And what does Jonah Cle have to do with all this?

McKillip's books look rather lightweight, bedecked with flowery maidens on their covers. If you've overlooked them, don't - McKillip has won a slew of awards, including, twice, the World Fantasy Award. Her books have been favorites of mine since I was a teenager.

Give The Bards of Bone Plain a try: it is beautiful.

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