The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip This new book from long-time favorite Patricia McKillip is a misty tale of magic, music, mystery and archaeology. In the distant past, Nairn was called the Pig-Singer, because the pigs were his only audience. Then he found himself studying at a newly-emerging school for bards, pushed into training to compete to be bard to the equally new but self-appointed king. This story is interwoven with a story of a time that feels closer to our present, where Phelan Cle, graduate student at the School for Bards, is in need of a topic for his final paper. Hoping for something easy, he picks a topic that has been done at least once a decade for centuries: What happened to Nairn after the legendary competition? Does Bone Plain, the site of the competition, really exist, and if so, where? His research may (oh, ok, will of course) turn out to be more relevant than he thought as he tries to finish his paper while keeping his drunken, wandering father from getting into trouble. Also in the present day is the stereotypically lovely but unconventional Princess Beatrice, who runs Phelan’s father’s archaeology dig in the city, and whose work will have more in common with Phelan’s than either of them realize. There is something about McKillip’s writing – perhaps the way the magic is clearly there with workings invisible to all the characters – that makes her magic seem more, well, magical, than most fantasy books, where magic is often a thing clearly understood. I haven’t read a bad McKillip yet, and this is worthy of her name.
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