The Bards of Bone Plain

The Bards of Bone Plain

by Patricia A. McKillip


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, June 24


The latest "rich, resonant" (Publishers Weekly) fantasy from the World Fantasy Award-winning author of The Bell at Sealey Head.

Eager to graduate from the school on the hill, Phelan Cle chose Bone Plain for his final paper because he thought it would be an easy topic. Immortalized by poets and debated by scholars, it was commonly accepted-even at a school steeped in bardic tradition-that Bone Plain, with its three trials, three terrors, and three treasures, was nothing more than a legend, a metaphor. But as his research leads him to the life of Nairn, the Wandering Bard, the Unforgiven, Phelan starts to wonder if there are any easy answers...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781937007232
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/06/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 636,382
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Patricia A. McKillip is a winner of the World Fantasy Award, and the author of numerous novels. She lives in Oregon.

Read an Excerpt

Declan smiled. "I offered to come. I wanted to hear what strange music has grown along the edge of the world."

They studied him curiously, all suspicion gone. "Another wanderer," one decided. "Like Nairn."


They gestured toward the young harper. "He can play anything; he's been everywhere around the Marches. He's heard it all."

The golden eyes, glinting like coins, studied Nairn. Nairn, meeting the unblinking, dispassionate gaze, felt oddly as though his world had shifted sideways, overlapped itself to give him an unexpected vision of something he didn't know existed. The feeling echoed oddly in his memories. Astonished, he recognized it: the other time he had wanted something with all his bones and didn't know what it was.

Declan smiled. Wordless, Nairn tipped his harp in greeting. The older bard came over to him, sat on the bench beside him.

"Play," Declan urged. "Some song from the sea."

Nairn shook his head slightly, found his voice. "You first. They're all tired of listening to me by now, and so am I. Play us something from your world."

The men rumbled their agreement. Declan inclined his head and opened his harp case.

The harp came out dancing with light. Uncut jewels inset deeply into the face of the harp glowed like mermaid's tears, green, blue, red, amber in the firelight. The men shifted, murmuring with wonder, then were dead still as the harper played a slow, rich, elegant ballad the like of which Nairn had never heard. It left a sudden, piercing ache in his heart, that there might be a vast sea-kingdom of music he did not know and might never hear. The wanderer who had enchanted the pigs with his voice and had calloused his feet hard as door slats had glimpsed the castle in the distance, with its proud towers and the bright pennants flying over them. Such lovely, complex music was no doubt common as air within those walls. And there he stood on the outside, with no right to enter and no idea how to charm his way in. With a bladder-pipe?

The ballad ended. The men sat silently, staring at the harper.

"Sad," one breathed finally, of the princess who had fled her life on her own bare feet to meet her true love in secret, only to find him dead in their trysting bower with her husband's wedding ring lying in the hollow of his throat.

Another spoke, after another silence. "Reminds me of a ballad my wife sings. Only it's a sea-maid, not a princess, and her husband is sea-born as well, but her own true love is a mortal man, drowned by a wave and found in the sand with a black pearl on his throat."

Nairn saw a familiar kindling in Declan's eye. "Please," the bard said. "Sing it for me."

"Ah, no," the man protested, trying to shift to safety behind his friends. "I couldn't. Not for you."

"I'll sing with you," Nairn suggested promptly. "I know it."

You see? their faces told Declan as Nairn began. He knows everything.

They were all singing it toward the end, all the villagers with their voices rough as brine-soaked wool, trying to imitate the older bard's deep, tuned, resonant voice. Declan listened silently, harp on his knee, hands resting upon it. He was hardly moving. Maybe it was his breathing that kept the harp moving imperceptibly, the jewels glittering with firelight, then darkening, then gleaming again, catching at Nairn's eyes as he played. For the first time in his life he saw some use for what he only knew as words in poetry: gold, jewels, treasure. He was born poor; he took his music for free; it cost no more than air or water. But there were other songs, he realized, other music, maybe even other instruments secreted away where only those who possessed gold, wore jewels, were permitted to go.

The jewels, fair blue as sky, green as river moss, fire red, teased him, lured his eyes when he ignored them. He met Declan's eyes once, above the jewels; they told him nothing more than mist. He had stolen things in his life, but only to keep on living: eggs out of a coop, a cloak left on a bush to dry, a pair of sandals when his feet grew bigger than his shoes. Things he needed. Never anything like this. Never anything he wanted, mindlessly, with all his heart: these jewels, useless, brilliant, indolent creatures, doing no one any good, just flaunting their wealth and beauty on the face of a harp whose supple, tender voice would not change so much as a tremor if the jewels vanished.

He heard Declan's voice then, softly pitched to reach him beneath the singing.

"Take them. If you can."

He met the bard's eyes again, found them again wide, unblinking, oddly metallic, the pupils more like coins that human eyes. Like the jewels burning on his harp, they lured, teased, challenged.

Nairn dropped his eyes, pitched every note, sang every word of longing and passion in the ballad to all the music he had never heard, might never hear, the treasure-hoard of it, hidden away like forbidden love behind windowless walls, within indomitable towers.

He scarcely noticed when the ballad came to an end; he heard only the longing and loss in his heart. His fingers stilled. He heard an ember keen, a twig snap. No one spoke, except the fire, the wind, the sea. Then, as he stirred finally, he heard an odd ping against the flagstones, and then another, as though, beneath his feet, some very ancient instrument were turning itself.


He looked down, found the jewels had melted like tears down the harp face, slid to his feet.

He stared at Declan, whose eyes held a pleased, human smile. The men at the tables were beginning to shift a bone, draw a breath.

"They go where they are summoned," the bard said. "Take them. They came to you."


Excerpted from "The Bards of Bone Plain"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Patricia A. McKillip.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

The Bards of Bone Plain 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
BarbieA More than 1 year ago
I love this author so much I have sponsored her at my local library, trying to turn other readers on to her lyrical and imaginative writing writing. This story with its different voices and interweaving of stories is part mystery, part love story and total fantasy. I couldn't put it down, and I wanted more!
harstan More than 1 year ago
He wants to finish his class work so he can graduate from the school on the hill. Phelan Cle chose an easy topic for his final report, the frequently studied Bone Plain. For five centuries the legendary locale has been argued about by academia as to whether it is myth fostered by romantic poets or a lost land. Even at his bardic school, Phelan knows most assume the Bone Plain is legend with its alleged trio triad of Trials, Terrors and treasures. Phelan's research uncovers the story of a wandering bard Nairn the Unforgiven and the student wants to know more about him. At the same time his archeologist father Jonah digs at the ancient ruins of the city. Working at the excavation sites is Princess Beatrice, who prefers digs to dances. When the team uncovers an enigmatic disk with ancient runes on it, Phelan believes this is the key to solving the riddle of Nairn the Unforgiven while Beatrice begins to notice what has been hidden in plain sight. This is a strange but enjoyable tale that feels like a fantasy, but is not; as Patricia McKillip provides a scholarly atmosphere in which the Lovin' Spoonful tune "Do You Believe in Magic?" seems so apropos as there is no paranormal. The story line switches effortlessly between Phelan, Beatrice and Nairn with the language of the runes connecting the trio (everything is in threes). Fans will appreciate the low-keyed look at The Bards of Bone Plain as the present interprets the past with a contemporary filter that can lead to misinterpretation Harriet Klausner
phoebesmum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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 results 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.
kmaziarz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Phelan Cle, a student at the bardic school in Caeru, never really wanted to be a bard. His decidedly unmusical and eccentric father, Jonah had other ambitions for his son, however, pushing Phelan toward music at every turn. Now that Phelan is about to finally graduate, he¿s determined to make things easy on himself . He¿s chosen perhaps the most commonly researched, straight-forward topic possible for his final dissertation¿the myths and songs surrounding Bone Plain, said to be the origin of bardic tradition, poetry, and song, the place where Nairn the mysterious Wandering Bard failed the equally mysterious Three Trials and vanished from history. No one knows the location of the Plain, or even if it ever existed outside of metaphor and folklore. However, as he digs into the stories and records, he begins to piece together the surprising truths behind the tale. Meanwhile, his archaeologist father and his best student, the unconventional Princess Beatrice, continue digs of their own. When Beatrice discovers a mysterious artifact and and even more mysterious buried doorway, the final pieces of the puzzle surrounding Bone Plain and Nairn the Wanderer begin falling into place.Lyrical, complex, and mythic in scope yet entirely human in detail, ¿The Bards of Bone Plain¿ is an example of McKillip at her best.
atimco on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Bards of Bone Plain, Patricia McKillip's latest effort, leaves me with mixed feelings. On one hand, the writing is superb, delicate and intelligent, and no one can turn a phrase like she does. Every sentence is a gift. But I found the story itself strangely unengaging¿maybe I was following the lead of the first character to be introduced, Phelan Cle, who views the world with startling dispassion. I struggled a bit to finish this book, and this rarely happens with McKillip. McKillip entwines two stories, the past and the present, connecting them by a character who is condemned to live forever as a punishment for failing the trials of Bone Plain. Nairn is the somewhat historical, somewhat mythical figure who haunts the pages; we get bits and pieces of his story even as we try to figure out what's happening in the present and what the connection is. History, legend, mythology, and folklore traditions meet¿and duel¿in the music of Caerau. The cast is well drawn, as is usual with McKillip. There's Phelan Cle, a talented student who nevertheless cares little for music; Phelan's father Jonah Cle, a brilliant drunk with a passion for archaeology; Princess Beatrice, who works at the dig sites and is determined not to be married off; Zoe, a uniquely gifted singer who is next in line for the post of bard to the king; and several others, each deftly brought to life. The world-building is nebulous; there are cars, it seems, but they are background noise, incidental mentions behind the medieval-fantasy world feel. The princess does archaeological digs and it seems most people don't look askance at it, but older attitudes are represented in her mother, who disapproves of such activities as wholly unladylike. The school trains bards and they learn an oral tradition, but there is a huge background of scholarship, articles and records and theses. And most of the scholarship is about the subject: the location of Bone Plain and its famous (and mysterious) trials. When Phelan finds himself inexplicably pulled into the age-old mystery, it suddenly becomes very personal, with huge implications for the future. The past does that.Ultimately this novel left me vaguely dissatisfied. Though I love McKillip's prose, the plot wasn't coherent and strong enough to really draw me in. And a reader does not live on style alone.
SlySionnach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The sense of completion that I get when I finish a McKillip novel is unrivaled by any other author. I¿ve said it before, but this woman¿s prose is magic. There doesn¿t need to be a strong plot for me to enjoy it (though it helps that her books do have one!); there just needs to be these musical words creating a symphony on the pages.The Bards of Bone Plain is a story told in two different sections: one following the life of Nairn, the Unforgivable and one following the lives of Phelan Cle, son of Jonah Cle - resident merchant, alcoholic, and collector of old things. Watching how these two stories intertwine to become one is an adventure. Phelan is about to graduated from his bardic school and has to write a paper. He chooses the topic of Bone Plain, which has been done a hundred times according to his father. As he researches, he begins to find bits and pieces of a legend that hadn¿t been explored before.Jonah spends his time going here and there with the next bottle of rum before the arrival of a bard named Kelda. Then he suddenly starts going to the events he¿s invited to just to watch this man, to the amazement of his family and friends. The story within a story is the tale of Nairn, who has failed the test he was given many years ago and now must wander the world to try and redeem himself. It follows his life from when he first learned of music until it crashes into the other storyline. The only complaint I have about this novel is minor, but jarring. At one instance, near the end when I¿d figured out the twist already, a name was either mistakenly put it which revealed a secret, or she revealed the secret too soon. Either way, it confirmed my suspicions almost too early for me and made me upset that the double twist in my mind wasn¿t going to happen. But that was me just over thinking things.But that is just a drop of oil in the ocean of perfect, blue water that is this novel. If you¿ve never read any McKillip, and you count yourself as a fan of fantasy, you¿d better start. There aren¿t many authors out there as poetically beautiful and creative as she is.
beserene on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Patricia McKillip has been my favorite living author for quite a few years now and every once in a while a new book comes out that reminds me why. There is something so lush about her prose that one can't help but sink into it. Her fantasies are always connected with something larger -- folklore, fairy tales, regional traditions -- and that makes them feel richer and more satisfying than many. This particular novel, while not breaking my top three of her work (though, really, decent work from her still trumps master efforts from a lot of writers), continues that trend of richness.The setting here is unusually blended; a lot of McKillip's novels are traditionally set in a medieval-esque fantasy kingdom, but in this book we have moved into a kingdom in shift, a place that includes early motorcars and ancient standing stones. Were I not so used to steampunk, I might have found the setting an odd fit (McKillip isn't writing steampunk here, but the flavor pops up occasionally in certain descriptions), but it works as a piece of the puzzle that the book sets up.In many ways, the novel is about blending things (and people) that shouldn't fit. It approaches ideas of time, history, archaeology, tradition, romance, magic... all with an eye for the places and ideas that intersect, overlap, blur into each other. There are no hard borders in the novel -- everything seems to be a liminal space -- including the narrative itself, which switches back and forth from one perspective to another, until the reader gets close to the end and realizes what's been going on (I won't spoil it for you).The romance angle is a little more subtle in this novel as compared to many of McKillip's others, as our attention is focused on the nature of other relationships -- father and son, master and student, conqueror and conquered -- but I very much liked the characters who did get together. McKillip tends to write strong, balanced women and uses a healthy measure of reality in her characterization, something that is occasionally lost in other fantasy literature.Bottom line: I love this author and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you enjoy good fantasy and have not encountered McKillip before, give her work a try. (To be honest, the first book by her that I picked up, I bought for the cover -- amazing work by Kinuko Craft, and I am happy to see Ms. Craft continuing to do these covers -- so sometimes you really can judge a book that way!) If you have already spent pleasant hours with her books, you will not be disappointed by McKillip's newest effort.
thetearose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love McKillip's dreamy writing style. Her prose is fantastic, and the characters really come alive.
undinesprite on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
McKillip's use of language, spare and elegant, about characters that compel me to fall in love w/them makes me linger over the story. I stretch out reading it - balancing on the edge of wanting to know what happens next and not wanting the story to end. Book bliss.
Asata on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book seems to be dragging. I have read several others of hers and enjoyed them, but this one not so much. It is morose and glum, with overtones of frustration. Not sure I want to finish it...
francescadefreitas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
McKillip is like a soothing, happy drug, every time I dip into one of her books I come out feeling like the world is slightly richer. This is no exception - another story about the power of words, of names, and of true selves. The story flicks between a modern kingdom (motor cars are rare creatures, and it is a kingdom with kings and princesses and bards,) and the time of the kingdom's founding. But the legend of the bards of Bone Plain has earlier roots in a time long lost to history, and in a language and power lost even to legend. I was especially fond of the archaeological princess.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stephen Kersten More than 1 year ago
Another stunning poetic triumph. A 243 page glorious word poem, a paean to the power of not only words, but also the concepts and power they unlock in our imaginations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago