Patricia McKillip almost always tells the same story – a talented, bemused character is mystified by something that may or may not be magic, and tries to understand its heart. Even the fabulous Riddle-Master of Hed is a variant on this. When she strays a bit (Moon-Flash duology, Cygnet duology), she’s been less successful. And I keep buying the books because even if the story is similar, she writes it remarkably well. With very few exceptions, I’ve loved everything of hers I’ve read, which is quite a bit.
The Bards of Bone Plain is another variant of this same theme. As always, McKillip writes beautifully, and her characters are extremely likeable and interesting. She weaves the parts together almost seamlessly, carrying us along for a comfortable but enthralling ride. She throws in a wink at steampunk this time, but otherwise, the setting and characters are classic McKillip.
I didn’t find that the central mysteries were really satisfactorily explained this time – the ending left a good deal in doubt. But it didn’t really matter. As with Jack Vance, with McKillip it’s really the journey that counts, not the destination. And here the journey is as scenic and satisfying as one could hope for.
If you’re a fan of McKillip, you probably already have this; it’s exactly what you would expect. If you don’t know McKillip yet, this is as good a place to start as any – this is romantic, magical storytelling at its best.