Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, May 4, 2012

1982: Kinship of the White Bird 3 - A Tapestry of Time (Cowper, Richard)

Dark Age quest for redemption & Renaissance quest for truth (4/5)

A Tapestry of Time is the third and final book in the Kinship of the White Bird trilogy. The first book, The Road to Corlay opened with a prologue with a romantic overview of how the Kinship was born. The remainder of the novel presented the noble beginnings of the cult and how a telepathic time traveler influenced the lover of the famous piper. The second book, A Dream of Kinship, showcased the history of the cult through the eyes of the son born from the piper and his lover, an auspicious boy with a talent for the lute. Still in the year 3038 A.D., book three follows this boy after he leaves the archipelago of England for a European journey after denouncing his Kinsman ways.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Twenty years have passed since the martyrdom of the Boy-piper at York, twenty years in which his legacy, the movement of Kinship, has challenged the tyranny of the Church Militant in Britain's seven island kingdoms. Now his namesake, Tom, bearing the Boy's own pipes and perhaps himself imbued with the spirit of the White Bird, in wandering Europe in company with the girl, Witchet. But disaster overtakes them and Tom, in a fury of vengeance, breaks his vow of Kinship. A Terrible path lies before him, one that transcends his own world. As he travels it, Tom must come to understand the true nature of the wild White Bird, of The Bride of Time and her Child, and of the Song the Stat Born sang."

There are two parts of this book. The first 114 pages follows Tom and Witchet as they traverse Spain, France, and Italy by themselves and with troupes of traveling actors. Befriended by a family of actors, the duo ply their art of lute-playing and singing, which enchant the crowds and earn the troupe much income. When word comes of highway robbers, they hire security for their caravan, only to lose them in a storm and come unexpectedly upon the robbers, who masquerade as shepherds. Defenseless, the bandits attack the troupe and leave them without transportation. Deciding to head north, the duo detach from the troupe in order to reconnect with friends and family.

The second part of this book is a 142-page journal entry and post-script from the years 3798-3799 A.D., nearly eight hundred years after the founding of the religion of the Kinship. With Europe, and especially England, now flourishing in an industrial era, historical studies of the Kinship can be undertaken with academic intensity. Professor Robert James Cartwright and his history studies colleague Margaret Coley attend mass on New Years eve. Afterwards, the two witness a mystery which they hesitate to calla a "miracle." Studiously, the two separately retell the event on paper and compare notes. They concur that the child that Margaret caught did, indeed, disappear from her very hands. Only when Cartwright begins to see an apparition of a bearded man does he attach significance to the chance miracle. The soon-to-be-betrothed couple seek out an ancient manuscript which they hope will shed light on some historical facts regarding the characters in the White Bird tales.

The first part following Tom and Witch was unlike anything in the first two books, this half cast a dark shadow on the plot with scenes of violence and pestilence; it very much had a Dark Ages feel to it. This contrasts the "second Renaissance" in the last half, where universities have sprung up, where steamships navigate the English isles and telephone service has made a comeback. This is a time when the Catholic church is known, but the nearly universal Kinsmen religion has become more organized, straying from its humble birth as a workingman's personal ethic.

The two halves (3038 and 3799 A.D.) have their respective quests: Tom has a quest to save the soul of his dead lover while attempting to redeem or ignore the souls of two recently departed wrong-doers. The quest takes place in a parallel reality which Tom is sure exists purely within himself. This fantastical realm is occupied by spirits but maintains the same geography wherever Tom is. The second quest is the last half is an academic pursuit of delving into ancient papers while correlating facts, matching dates, interviewing locals, and tracking down a relic. The spiritual fantasy quest is an odd countenance to the European trek and strays from the prior books' humble beginnings. The quest for the truth and relic, however, is exciting from its far-future perspective during the second Renaissance.

You've got to give credit to Richard Cowper for one thing, besides his romantic writing and intelligent plot structure, and that is he is aware of his limitations, as he writes in the author's notes:

"[...] in any sequence of novels a point is arrived at when the author becames [sic] painfully aware that there is a limit to the amount of background information which he can hope to incorporate in each successive book without grievously restricting the flow of his narrative." (9)

The three books of the White Bird of Kinship trilogy are all inclusive and Cowper was wise not to prolong the series, selling out to produce a never ending stream of loosely linked novels in the same universe. You can start with book one knowing that at the end of book three, there is a satisfying conclusion which leaves the reader with a sense of piqued curiosity and awe.

Beyond the Kinship trilogy, look into his humor with Profundis. This is one author I'm eager to research more and more into until I exhaust his entire bibliography... next I have Clone and Out There Where the Big Ships Go.


  1. Are you implying that there was a Dark Age and then the Renaissance? Hehe, as a medievalist, I BEG to differ. But, in some future variation, perhaps this pattern holds true ;)

    And yes, I'm being snarky on purpose. I haven't read fantasy (besides VanderMeer in a decade...).

  2. I'm no historian, so I'm just applying labels as I see fit... kept thinking you would have enjoyed this series more than me! The church suppression before and just after 3000AD were drowned in petty tyranny, regal tyranny, and authoritative tyranny. Jump forward to the 3800AD century and the idea of catholic church is just that, but the Kinship themselves have established their own church. Maybe 800 years spanning the two centuries is a bit of a stretch to say Dark Ages and Renaissance... but I'm not too good with these kinds of labels. Interested in the series though?