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Company of Liars: A Novel Paperback – August 25, 2009
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“Mysterious, sinister, and totally enthralling! It's the sort of book where you close the back cover and immediately open it again, hoping to find a few more pages.”—Diana Gabaldon, #1 bestselling author of A Breath of Snow and Ashes
“Karen Maitland immerses the modern reader in the daily life of the Middle Ages. Intricately plotted, Company of Liars offers complex characters today's reader can identify with. A dark Canterbury's Tale, this long winter's night of magical storytelling expertly blends history and mystery.”—Julia Spencer-Fleming, Edgar Award finalist and author of I Shall Not Want
“Karen Maitland has dug into some obscure corners of medieval history to produce an almost parallel universe: a place where myth, magic, and superstition take over as the established order breaks down, but a world that nevertheless rings true. On top of that, she has fashioned a compelling mystery story that should appeal to a much wider readership than historical fiction fans. . . . Compelling.”—Daily Mail (UK)
“Maitland combines the storytelling traditions of The Canterbury Tales with the supernatural suspense of Kate Mosse's Sepulchre in this atmospheric tale of treachery and magic.”—Marie Claire
“A Canterbury Tales scenario with an M. Night Shyamalan ghost story. . . . A harrowing historical.”—Denver Post
“A compelling and highly atmospheric twist on Dan Brown land.”—The Mirror (UK)
“Executed with stunning skill.”—BookPage
About the Author
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Top international reviews
The year is 1348. The Black Plague grips the country. In a world ruled by faith and fear, nine desperate strangers, brought together by chance, attempt to outrun the certain death that is running inexorably toward them.
Each member of this motley company has a story to tell. From Camelot, the relic-seller who will become the group's leader, to Cygnus, the one-armed storyteller . . . from the strange, silent child called Narigorm to a painter and his pregnant wife, each has a secret. None is what they seem. And one among them conceals the darkest secret of all – propelling these liars to a destiny they never saw coming.
Magical, heart-quickening, and raw, Company of Liars is a work of vaulting imagination from a powerful new voice in historical fiction.
She is a fantastic story teller, from the first page to the very last she sucks you in to the characters stories and you literally can not put the book down till you have finished!
Set in 1348, the time of the Black Death, an era of Religion, Suspicion, and Witchcraft, this book tells the tale of a group of people, a holy relics trader, a midwife, a young couple, a conjourer, an apprentice and his master and a strange young girl, all bound together on an unusual journey to escape the plague and their own pasts.
What then ensues, birth, death, lies, intrigue and magic, is all told in a maginificent tale, which keeps you doubting and guessing until the last page.
I felt the last chapter wrapped up the story perfectly, leaving you satisfied and terrified at the same time, it was heartbreaking to come to the end.
All in all this book was a joy to read, and happily introduced me to a new author of historical fiction, by far my favourite genre.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Camelot, an old, well-seasoned traveller and trader in relics of more or less dubious origins. He is an astute observer but from the start it becomes clear that we can't trust any one person from the company, happy to bend the truth to meet their needs as they are. Some are more likeable than others, but with the rune-reading girl, Narigorm, Karen Maitland has created a singularly spiteful and malicious character, even more so as she is still only a child. The characterisation is excellent, each person a damaged individual, but where the author excels is in the descriptions of the dripping and frosty landscape and in creating an atmosphere of absolute dread and fear amongst the population in the wake of the ever advancing pestilence. This is a populace well accustomed to hardship and starvation, yet in the face of this seeming apocalypse they are at a loss and are clutching at any straw they can think of: amulets, supposedly holy relics, even a cripples' wedding to ward off the inevitable. This is an age where superstition, faith and witchcraft were still happily sitting side by side, and Karen Maitland succeeds in making us understand the medieval mind-set, not least with the fairly extensive historical notes and glossary in the appendix. It is debatable if the supernatural element that appears to occur in each of her books was necessary to the degree as it's found in this novel, and so opinions will always differ in that respect. The pestilence is always in the background, and we get glimpses of heartbreaking human tragedies that must have happened a thousandfold during those years, thereby enhancing my understanding of this period of history and putting flesh on the historic dates and statistics. I raced through the 500+ pages as I wanted to know what happened next, but the secrets that were revealed by each of the characters were pretty obvious to the attentive reader, and even the supposed final twist came as no surprise, thus falling just short of five stars.
An intelligent and well-researched account of a time in history that now appears almost alien to us with our scientific knowledge and technologies. As always, it amazes me that my and my husband's ancestors managed to live through it or we wouldn't be alive today. Thoroughly recommended.
It is 1348 and the Black Plague has disembarked on the English shores. The narrator, Camelot - itinerant peddler of bogus holy relics - is making his way north and inland to try and outrun the plague. Along the way, believing in safety in numbers, Camelot is joined by various other misfits: a musician and his apprentice, a magician, a one-armed storyteller, a young couple on the run, a midwife, and a ghostly rune-reading girl who tells their pasts and predicts their futures with unnerving accuracy.
In a world ruled by fear, faith and superstition, the plague constantly snapping at their heels, this odd group of bedfellows grudgingly bear each other as they suffer incessant rain and cold, starvation, assaults and terror as they try to stay beyond the sweep of death that is ravaging England.
While brilliantly evoking the squalor, the smells, and the danger of the plague years, this powerful story does not focus on these grim conditions, but rather on the hopes, dreams and fears of every exquisitely-drawn character. Each member of the group has a story to tell, a secret to hide, a lie to conceal. Over the months they travel, eat, sleep and face disaster together, they learn more about one another until each secret is revealed in turn, often with dire consequences. Finally, it is revealed that one of them masks the darkest secret of all; a curse far worse than the pestilence they are struggling to flee - a secret that propels the company of liars towards a destiny neither they, nor the reader, sees coming.
I recommend this ingenious blend of history, primal terror and powerful human drama to anyone who appreciates a tale of mediaeval intrigue, mild fantasy and plain good storytelling.
Right, off to purchase another book by Karen Maitland.
I really loved the way the period of history was described; the conditions of everyday life, the villages ravaged by disease and the superstition and fear amongst ordinary folk. That descriptive aspect of the book worked so well, but the tale that unfolds against this absorbing backdrop was, for me, a little weird. The 'supernatural' element was a disappointment as opposed to the very real mystical beliefs of the times that were so wholly fitting. When I came to the last few pages and the two final twists were revealed my first reaction was - nah! Surely not! I'm still feeling a bit like that but, overall this was a book I enjoyed.
This is such a complex and well written book. As a writer myself, it's quite hard to get caught up a book, but I did get caught up in this one. The characters are rich and convincing- Zophiel is super annoying, as are Narigorm and poor Jofre. I found myself worried about what was actually going to happen. The author builds the tension really well too, even with the titles of the chapters 'The First Death' etc got me thinking 'oh heck, there's going to be more deaths?' You also got a real feel for what it must have been like back then, when everyone was just dying of the plague.
Definitely recommend this book.
Ben Kane, author of Spartacus: the Gladiator.