Like the first volume of 'The White Bird of Kinship' trilogy, this one is in two sections. The first concludes the story begun in the previous volume. It is an altogether darker episode in which prophecies come to pass, but not in the way envisaged by those who had transmitted them. Indeed, the end of the tale that began with the death of the Boy-piper can be taken as a defeat of all the hopes and aspirations of those who fought and threw off the strangling hand of the Orthodox Church.
The second part of the book moves us forward another 700 years and tells of two scholars who set out to discover what really happened all those centuries before - unpicking myth from fact and trying to decide just where (if at all) the difference lies. This acts a gentle counter-balance to the first part and wakens the possibility that the original vision of Kinship might finally be realised.
Written beautifully, as ever, this final book concludes the story in wonderful style and opens up many of the layers that were packed into earlier parts of the book. Not only do we have a complete story of religious revolution, we have a much more complex and ambitious investigation into how religions are shaped, often by disciples whose view of things are subtly different to those they follow.
This acts a commentary on the way in which Christianity, in particular, became the creation of St Paul who set the orthodoxies. In these books, Kinship becomes something other than originally envisioned under the guiding hand of Francis. But we have something deeper than that, because the books are circular. The scholars at the end may well have been the ones who wrote the stories down in the form we have just read them, so we are, at the end, confronted with the further possibility of yet another layer of interpretation - the intention of which is to restore the original vision.
Cowper has produced something quite profound here. A well written and gripping fantasy story that explores religious and philosophical questions without ever losing sight of the wonderful characters he has created. They drive the story rather than being stock figures designed to suit the author’s needs. And he has created a world without once feeling the need to expound on his world-building and explain it all. We experience the world as its inhabitants experience it; we know what they know and are therefore allowed to be confronted by its wonders and horrors without having a tedious tour guide whispering in our ear.
If you enjoy fantasy - this is a must read. If you want to write fantasy - this is a must read.