Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Bards of Bone Plain

Author: Patricia A. McKillip
Publisher: Ace / Berkley (Penguin)
Released: December 7, 2010
Genre: YA Fantasy

Bone Plain is a myth. But it's a much-talked-about myth, and scholars of the school have written final papers on Bone Plain for centuries. So Phelan doesn't think he's doing anything ground-breaking by researching this tires old topic. But when Princess Beatrice, in her un-princess-like activities of excavating ruins of the city for Phelan's father, Jonah, finds a strange coin with ancient inscriptions, and then Phelan makes startling discoveries in his research, and then a very strange bard who incites strange reactions from everyone shows up, ancient secrets begin to be revealed and old history is played out again.

I love Patricia McKillip's style. There's something so magical about it, a way of pulling you into this alternate world and immersing you so completely in it. She writes sort of matter-of-factly, about preposterous ideas, about things which even the people who inhabit these imaginary lands find strange and unbelievable.

McKillip's books are more about character than plot, and I think that's very evident in The Bards of Bone Plain. It was very easy to follow the plot, because not much happens. I was able to skim whole pages because I didn't feel like I'd be missing out on any important facts or details. It's more about the unraveling of secrets and how people react to them. The technique she uses so often, of combining straight storytelling with "excerpts" from various sources, makes up much of the style and contributes to the feeling of discovering and uncovering ancient secrets.

I love this research and exploration aspect of the book. There are a few passages about digging into the past and finding out about ancient stories, from Beatrice and her physical digging, to scholars talking about old songs and poems, and about the lost magic of the ancient language. There's something so compelling about the feeling of having a glimpse into a lost world - even when that world is imaginary, and the world it's lost to is also imaginary!

My overall opinion about the book is ambivalent. I love the style, but I felt like lots more could have happened. Alphabet of Thorn, another of McKillip's books, is very similar to this one in style and tone, and has the same feeling of discovering ancient secrets, and even uses the same technique of including bits of the characters' research as part of the story. But Alphabet has so much more to it. I've read Alphabet many times, and I expect I will read many more, but Bards, although a book I will probably not be re-visiting, is entertaining and interesting.

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