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A dark gothic remake of the Cantebury Tales.
At least that's what this book claims to be and it's not wrong there. It's told from the viewpoint of a nameless, seasoned traveller, who lives by his wits selling religious artefacts. He likes to travel alone but unfortunately he gains a few companions and they set out together trying to outrun the plague which is chasing them from every direction. But things start taking a turn for the worst when one by one their secrets are revealed and murder is in the air.
Everything seems to be against this small band of travellers, the weather takes a turn for the worst, they are being chased by the plague and something just isn't right about everyone in the group, they are all hiding something. As the journey continues and the plot begins to unfold you find out what these secrets are....but once exposed bad things start to happen.
This book isn't just your typical murder mystery either, there is mystical, evil presence among the company and no-one can work out what it is. It left me with chills down my spine and the final chapter was just amazing. The writing style is brilliant, it really does seem to bring the era to life and you genuinely feel like you are in the desparate, frightening situation with the company.
This is no rags to riches story either, these are just normal people struggling to survive the only way they know how. I think that is what is so different about this book, it's not trying to be anything other than a dark, mysterious horror story. I can't wait to read Karen Maitland's other books.
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland is a book written during the years of the plague in the 14th century and can be viewed as a Chaucer style Canterbury tales.
Company of Liars
The book is set during the 14th century starting in 1348 with the first report of the arrival of the plague in England, though throughout the book the plague is called the pestilence. The book is a first person narrative by a itinerant pedlar of religious wares called Camelot. Camelot is a man in his later years, he has a terrible injury on his face and has lost an eye. He is also compassionate and intelligent, and when the book begins he is worried about the impact of the plague on the country.
The book begins with a simple meeting of Camelot and a strange little girl called Narigorm, the girl appears to be a portent of doom and tells Camelot that the journey is beginning with the arrival of the pestilence.
From this point on we will meet character who will become part of the company, there is the magician Zophiel, Cygnus the storyteller, Rodrigo and Joffrey who are Italian musicians, painter Osmand and his pregnant wife Adela, and Narigorms companion Pleasance.
The group reach nine and start travelling north in attempts to avoid the oncoming pestilence, they all have hidden secrets, all have passions and fears and all are desirious of leaving the region the novel started and beginning again.
Zophiel is a cynical, shrewish man who also has a horse and cart in which he has some strange boxes in which he looks after zealously. Adela and Osmand refuse to tell the group about why they are travelling when Adela is pregnant, Cygnus is on the run as a possible child killer, Joffrey and Rodrigo have recently left the employ of a lord but are a bit short on details as to why. Along with them is a mysterious girl Narigorm who appears to be able to tell the future through reading runes and her guardian Pleasance who is also a mid-wife but has a couple of strange bracelets in her pack.
The novel truly begins when as they travel through the country they keep meeting reports of the pestilence from the south, then west and finally north. They are slowly pushed east and as they travel each one will give up their secrets, there will be deaths along the way and there will be displays of hatred for people of different lifestyles.
The book is set solely through the perceptions of Camelot, his views on the events and as a result we sometimes are given the reasons for his actions before they take place. Camelot is reasoning and clearly intelligent so uses his wits to keep the company from disintegrating. Zoephiel is the strongest member of the group, he has the horse but he does like to wind up the other members of the group he is forced to travel with. Zopheils character means that over time the other characters in the book have to respond to how he antagonises them.
Zophiel despises women and therefore hates Adela because she is pregnant and through her he annoys Osmand. He also hates gays and finds out Joffrey is gay, this attack by Zophiel leads to terrible consequences.
The book slowly reveals the secrets carring by the characters, we find out why they are kean to get away from their past and as they reveal their truths disaster is never far behind.
This book gives a brilliant taste of a pestilence ridden Isle, where everyone is fearful everyone suspicious and angry. This is a land tearing itself apart because of the fear of catching the disease and dying, as each character reveals their secret we learn more about the life and times of living in 14th century England.
This book comes to a brilliant and satisfying conclusion and of course there are a couple of lovely twists at the end. This has been a contender so far for my book of 2010.
Company of liars is a medieval gothic tale of a band of travellers making their way across plague ridden 14th century England, like a dark and twisted version of Chaucer's canterbury tales. The story is narrated by a nameless pedlar, a veteran traveller who reluctantly ends up shepherding a mismatched band of travellers seeking to escape the oncoming plague. Slowly drawn together for mutual protection, though never exactly finding mutual friendship, the group struggle across the country, desperately trying to outrace the sickness that has begun to tighten round them like a noose. Faced with the most unseasonable weather ever seen, plague, famine, and lawlessness, the band do not have an easy time of it. Furthermore, as their journey progresses, it soon transpires that there are other, more subtle forces at work, and that everyone has a secret of some sort to keep. Secrets that some of them are willing to die for, maybe even to kill for.
Karen Maitland's descriptions of medieval england are spot on (well, OK I've never actually been there, but they feel spot on). She conjours up that sense of a dark and terrible time of near constant misery, where solace is fleeting and expensive, and the light of reason but the dimmest flicker in the back of anyone's mind. In spite of it's awfulness though, the world draws you in. Company of liars a blend of historical misery and gothic mystery. The characters do not have an easy time of it, and you certainly feel for them. At the same time however, you know they are all hiding something and there is a kind of itch to find out what it is. The need to know more means the book is something of a page turner. As the threats facing the company grow darker and stronger, you also find yourself playing the game of guessing just how many of them will survive.
The last thing to add about company of liars is that it feelis like soemthing different. It's not a tale of knights and kings, no paupers become princes, there is no cure to be sought for the oncoming plague. It's a tale of gothic survival horror with an impressive dash of mystery thrown in.
All in all, a dark and twisty tale which will appeal to those who like historical works, mystery works or the macabre.
The first thing that attracted me to this book was the subtitle - a novel of the plague. As one of those more morbid children the Black Death had always intrigued me with the tales of wracking coughs and blackened pustules on the rotting flesh of walking corpses (I hope nobody is eating dinner at the moment) and I thought, hey now's the time to relive some of those fond childhood memories.
This novel is actually set at the time the Black Death was just arriving in England in 1348 so the piles of dead bodies and Monty Python cries of "Bring Out Your Dead" had yet to occur. As a result the general atmosphere of the book begins as a small ripple of fear which gradually increases as the story progresses and the threat of the plague worsens.
The story is narrated by a trader in holy relics, scarred hideously during the Holy War but with many life experiences to make them the pinnacle character in the story. The story begins with a prologue of an unknown group of people plotting the demise of an evil witch which instantly sets the mediaeval scene by showing you the beliefs back then of the God-fearing people - a good way to whet the appetite.
With no obvious connection to the prologue which leaves you instantly intrigued, the story then continues with this trader as a lone traveller, but as the plague begins to move inland from the coasts and the trader tries to seek refuge at a pilgrimage site in North Marston, a series of seemingly coincidental events leads to this trader being accompanied by a bizarre motley crew of misfits: a conjuror, a midwife, a rune-reading girl, a musician and his young and unruly apprentice, a storyteller with one arm and a young couple on the run.
As the journey begins and the threat of the pestilence worsens, it soon becomes clear that there is an even more sinister, yet intangible danger threatening the group - one that they would all be lucky to survive.
For those of a sensitive nature you will be glad to know that this book doesn't deal with the messy details of the plague, but simply uses it as a back drop to create a heightened sense of uneasiness in both the characters and you as the reader. Although the group are never really touched by the plague they can never feel at ease due to unfortunate events which cause conflict and distrust in the group. But is someone or something masterminding the whole thing?
Secrets best left buried seem to find a way to escape with dire consequences...
This book is extremely well written and by making the story from only one perspective this allows the reader to be kept in the dark as much as the characters which allows the mystery and intrigue of the plot to remain firmly in place until the end.
Although the dialogue is written in modern English (thank God), through use of captivating description of the villages and the ways of the people and by intertwining the plot with some fascinating and entertaining stories and traditions, the world of mediaeval England is majestically brought back to life.
This is a subtle and intelligent, yet unnerving mystery which gradually builds up momentum as the peril the characters find themselves in intensifies. The mediaeval world is beautifully brought to life, despite the grim back drop of the Black Death and I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a bit of history or loves a good mystery.