Terry 's Reviews > The Road To Corlay

The Road To Corlay by Richard Cowper
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Aug 10, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi, post-apocalypse
Read from August 10 to 24, 2011

Was I not included on the memo that mentioned this guy? How have I never heard of him? Whatever the case may be, Richard Cowper (aka John Middleton Murry, Jr.) is a fine writer. My edition of this book includes both the title novel and the novella "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" which introduces us to the world and specific circumstances that will drive the conflict of the novel.

This is a story in the post-apocalyptic pastoral vein, a sub-set of the genre that I am finding is a lot more common than I had a first realized. It includes such works as Crowley's _Engine Summer_, Pangborn's _Davy_, Jefferies' _After London_ and others. In essence we see the world long after a disaster of some kind has laid waste to our society, but while the horror of that event is not diminished, the resulting world is often seen as the chance to start again and perhaps correct the mistakes of the past (or alternately relive them if the tragic mode is adopted). The apocalypse has, in effect, allowed us to start again with a more or less blank slate and thus there is a pervading optimism underneath the implied pessimism of the genre.

This story is a lyrically told one whose major themes are religious. The Church has remained as one of (if not the only) power centres of the old world left to fill the vacuum as it did in the days of Rome's fall. The world itself shares close ties with an idealized medieval one and in the introductory novella we meet the young piper Thomas and his Uncle Peter, an itinerant storyteller taking his nephew to be schooled in the Church. On the way he discovers his nephew's almost magical talent with the pipes and decides to use their journey as a chance to make some quick coin...his stories accompanied by the boy's music. They soon become a sensation, but the boy's piping proves to be more than it seems and it soon awakens a religious fervor in those who hear it and are awaiting the arrival of the enigmatic "White Bird". The boy ultimately becomes a martyred saviour figure and his uncle the first of his apostles, carrying his gospel to the world.

The novel itself opens with the fledgling religion in open opposition to the established church and one of its adherents (a Kinsman) attempting to evade the authorities in a quest to reach the last surviving founder of his sect as he carries a relic to be safeguarded. We follow his journey and also see the lives of the people he meets, both good and bad, as they become a part of his tale. Despite the religious nature and themes of the story it is never proselytizing or glibly allegorical. Cowper is simply telling a story of the numinous as it interacts with people and comes into contention with established authority.

I found the tale to be a compelling one, well told in a lyrical style that was a joy to read. The introduction of a past/future time travel element, as people from our time (just before the great flood that drowns the world) interact with those in the future in a mix of implied re-births and paranormal experimentation, was probably not necessary, but still not overly intrusive. I'd recommend this book and look forward to finding others in this series (called the "White Bird of Kinship" trilogy) as well as other unrelated books by the same author.
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05/30/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Daniel (new)

Daniel How did you find this? It sounds really interesting.


Terry I stumbled across an ebook version and tried it out. I really enjoyed it...Cowper is quite a good writer.


message 3: by Stuart (new)

Stuart This one looks quite interesting - I think I had the original Pocket paperback and completely forgot about it.


Terry I quite enjoyed it Stuart, though I'm still searching for the sequels.


message 5: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Interesting subgenre you're collecting.


Terry It is at that Miriam. Please let me know if you come across any in your travels.


message 7: by Miriam (last edited Dec 25, 2016 03:31PM) (new)

Miriam I feel like I've read at least one or two things that ought to fit, but they aren't coming to mind right now other than News from Nowhere, which isn't quite the same thing...

Have you read A Crystal Age?


Terry Interesting that you mention News from Nowhere, I've read that Morris was inspired in part by Jefferies' pseudo-medieval future world. I'll definitely check out A Crystal Age, thanks.


message 9: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Morris already (from his teens at least) had a strong interest in the Middle Ages, but yes, he did like After London. He wrote to a friend about it, saying. "absurd hopes curled round my heart as I read it. I rather wish I were thirty years younger: I want to see the game played out."


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