It’s a fantasy story set on the British Isles, now the Seven Kingdoms. The Drowning has already ended the Isles we know. The setting is in a time we would categorise as the dark ages, with the Church Militant, soldiers on horseback, peasants in homesteads, inns, and hard times for all.
To be honest, the first thirty pages were bizarre – a wondrous boy with pipes and a special forked tongue trained by a deceased dark wizard is the focus of a family’s attention. Tom, the Piper, goes to York, on the advice of his trusted and yet selfish guardian, the experienced Peter the Tale-Spinner. As Tom plays his special pipes stories of their performances follow them on their journey and the coin they receive from peasants makes them rich. Tom is said to be the harbinger of a prophecy regarding the White Bird of Kinship, foretold to come at the beginning of the third millennium.
This is all to the dismay of the Black Bishop at York, who fears his order and its teachings will be undermined by their presence and performance at York. He wants them dealt with, with subtlety. The contrast between light and dark is seen through tormented soldier Gyre, conflicted between his duty to the Black Bishop and the joy he felt at hearing the pipes play. This same conflict is repeated through other important characters later in the story and is mirrored by a theme that is a wish to either escape into fantasy or return to reality.
My attention waned through new characters, places, and situations and I wasn’t always sure where the author was going and how the story would tie up together. That being said, I’d say it was a novelty read, and I liked thinking about the possibilities of reality it brought up, combined with mysticism, along with the dark ages setting. The last sentence really got me thinking about what really happened, and I do think it concluded the story and removed doubt, but it’s up to interpretation. The Road to Corlay isn’t your typical dark ages fantasy. After all, the entire story is set in the future!