Title: Company of Liars
Author: Karen Maitland
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from Library Thing
First line: “So that’s settled, then; we bury her alive in the iron bridle. That’ll keep her tongue still.”
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland is a reinterpretation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Set in 14th century England, during a time of fear, religious power, and superstition, it is the story of nine travelers trying to escape the Plague. As they travel inland, it becomes apparent that each one carries a secret. One by one, the secrets are exposed, with deadly consequences.
There is Zophiel, the traveling magician whose wagon full of boxes is a constant source of worry. No one knows what is in them, but there seems to be someone following them who does.
Osmond and Adela, a young couple expecting their first child, also travel with the group. They seem to be of too high a class to be traveling with the wanderers.
Rodrigo and Jofre are musicians from Italy. Jofre has a hot head and a taste for wine, as he drinks to get away from his own secrets.
Pleasance is a midwife who hides her true identity, while helping to keep the travelers healthy and caring for Adela in her pregnancy.
Narigorm is a white-haired child who enchants everyone who meets her – but there is a darkness in her.
The story is narrated by Camelot, a traveling peddler who sells saints’ relics and artifacts. We see and experience the story through Camelot’s eyes and only at the end do we realize that his secret is the biggest of all.
Karen Maitland is an amazing writer who digs into the faults and weaknesses of human nature, the things that people prefer to keep hidden. She uses the child Narigorm as a catalyst for the characters to confront their true natures, for better or for worst. The results are disturbing, mystical, and all too believable.
Even though I wasn’t completely crazy about this book, I kept reading because of the quality of Maitland’s writing, and because I wanted to see how it would end. She does an excellent job of slowly revealing the truths about the nine travelers, piece by piece. The religion and superstition that permeate the book create an eerie atmosphere that becomes terrifying as the book progresses – culminating in an ending that made me shiver. Though the ending was clever in that way, I still didn’t care for the twist. But that’s just me – and I would still recommend this to any lovers of historical fiction.
This is a re-post of a review I wrote a couple of years ago.