The Bards of Bone Plain, by Patricia McKillip (me reading grown-up fantasy)

I haven't been meeting my goal of one adult fantasy book a week--turns out, no surprise, it takes longer to read something written for grown-ups than something written for an eleven-year old.  But I have been enjoying the variety of reading more of it.  Especially when, as has been the case these last few days, I have been lost in beautiful, magical imagery, and ancient secrets, following avidly along as intelligent, deeply likable people find their way through stories that have come from the past to twist the present into something rich and strange.

In short, I read a Patricia McKillip novel, and a rather fine one at that--The Bards of Bone Plain.   It is perhaps one of her best books ever.  And oh the shame of it, it was a Christmas present back in 2011, and it languished all this time, because (and I don't think I am alone in this), it is often easier to put off reading books you know you'll love, that will wait there patiently for you to come to them.....

Things I liked:

--what I said above.  McKillip is an author I read in much the same way as I approach a box of really expensive assorted truffles.   You don't gobble the whole box down, delicious though they are--instead, you make the most of the immersive experience of each bite, and are rewarded with great richness.  Except that only holds true for the first time reading one of her books, when I really don't know what is happening and how things are going to tie together. On re-reading I  proceed with a more relaxed, comfy, briskness....

--you know that whole if its fantasy it must be quasi medieval thing? To heck with that!  McKillip has two stories going at once, one in the past, and one in the present; the past one, with legitimate reason, is quasi-medieval, but then centuries have past, so we get a quasi Edwardian, steam-powered present!  With a princess who's an archaeologist by vocation, who drives a steam-powered vehicle.

--lots of music, and story, and legend  (if you like fantasy books with music, this is a must-read.  If you want to buy a fantasy book for a folklorist or an archaeologist, this is an excellent one).

--a rather sweet and unexpected romance.   I wish that McKillip would maybe be just a tad more forthcoming in the romance department, but she is parsimonious with details (really too parsimonious, in this case).   Happily, her characters have so much independent life to them that is easy to fill in the blanks (swoon!) for oneself.  

I do not think it is to everyone's taste, especially all the underlining of how the stories from the past, and from the land itself, are coming up into the light of day to disturb the order the things.  I can imaging some people feeling that they want less of being told how this is happening, and more of being told what the heck is really going on.   On top of that, everyone is running around with questions they are keeping to themselves, and feelings about things they never quite get a chance to articulate, and even I felt that maybe a bit of dictatorial explanation would have been not unwelcome.

That's the sort of thing, of course, that gets cleared up when you re-read it.  And truly, the best books are those that demand re-reading, and that offer new things every time one does.   I haven't re-read The Bards of Bone Plain, of course, but I already look forward to it...

Huh.  I just went and read the Amazon reviews, and the people who didn't care for it said they had it all figured out early on.   This is not something I myself have a problem with (the whole having figured things out bit).  I think it happened once (The False Prince).

I toy with the idea of someday organizing a Patricia McKillip appreciation week.  She seems to be finding more readers these days (at least, in the blog circles I frequent), but she deserves to be known and loved more widely!


  1. Oh, I would certainly join a Patricia McKillip appreciation week! You're right about her books and their loveliness and the wanting to hold onto it until the right moment-ness. I got her latest, a collection of short stories, at Christmas, and haven't cracked the cover yet.

    (all that said, i liked this one but didn't love it with the fervor that i felt for... say... The Bell at Sealey Head or Alphabet of Thorn)

  2. I'd join the McKillip fan club. Have you ever read THE ALPHABET OF THORN??? Oh, my stars. Good stuff.

  3. This was indeed a very lovely one, and I felt a bit of a return to form for her. I especially enjoyed her take on the time period, which is different from anything else I remember of hers.

    And YES on the appreciation week! Which I think I've already said, but sometimes my memory goes wonky.

    1. Yes, I thought the same viz return to form! Now my only unread book of hers is The Bell At Sealy Head, which didn't work for me the first time I tried it....

  4. All three of you will be on my list of guest post invitees!

  5. Yeah, reading one adult fantasy a week on top of everything else is a pretty ridiculous goal (seriously, it sometimes takes me several weeks to get through an adult fantasy because I read them so much more slowly), but I'm glad your'e still enjoying your forays!

    I've been wanting to read Patricia McKillip forever now, and hopefully will soon--it's always intimidating when an author has such a huge backlog! BUT the fact that this has two storylines, including an ARCHAEOLOGIST PRINCESS (my BA is in archaeology), has me pretty much convinced it needs to go somewhere near the top of my McKillip list.

    1. Yay for archaeologist princesses! There aren't enough of them.

      I think this would be a pretty good one to start with....but I generally suggest Alphabet of Thorn.

  6. I love this line in your post:

    "...it is often easier to put off reading books you know you'll love, that will wait there patiently for you to come to them..."

    And I agree! It happens so many times with me. This is my first time to hear about Patricia McKillip and I can't say I'm sorry because I'm a new reader of adult fantasy. My fascination of this genre has been borne from reading a lot children and middle-grade adventure, mystery, and fantasy books... which is why I just placed a lot of McKillip books in my wishlist and promised myself another trip to the bookstore soon to look for these titles.

    Lovely blog you have here! I've been following your blog for a while now.

    Simple Clockwork

    1. I do so hope you enjoy meeting McKillip! She has been a favorite author of mine for thirty years!


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