Review: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Nine travellers try to outrun the plague that is sweeping England but as they find themselves thrown together it is uncertain whether it is the plague that is the most dangerous or the secret that each of them is hiding.

This only took a short time to read since the style was captivating and the secret that each character carries kept my attention as I tried to work each one out. I liked the way the author purposely gave enough clues so that the reader works the answer out just before the narrator does. The story is told in first person from the view of an old Camelot, a medieval peddler, who’s voice is brusque and hard but his actions are more tender-hearted as seen throughout the book. First person can very easily annoy me but after the first few pages I grew used to the style and found it easy to see the story through.

Folktales are interwoven into the story as each traveller tells their own embroidered history and the narrator makes up about five different histories for himself throughout the book. My favourite was the swan boy whose history was a haunting gory fairytale.

“At that the storyteller threw back his purple cloak and there was a gasp from the crowd so deep that for an instant everyone seemed in two minds whether to turn and run or push towards him. From under the cloak the storyteller withdrew his left arm, except that it wasn’t an arm, it was the pure white wing of a swan.”

I only had a vague  knowledge of the plague from what I learnt at school and you do not need to know more than this to read the book. Maitland intertwines many gruesome customs and histories into the novel alongside the characters. She seamlessly incorporates the custom of the cripple’s wedding or the corpse road in with the plot.

I grew to like some of the characters but due to the tense and growing oppressiveness of the story I was constantly on edge and certain terrible things would happen to them. Only one character was very two-dimensional for me and since it was a pivotal character in the plot I felt the book suffered, especially the ending which reminded me of Goosebumps.

This book is a fast paced, creepy historical read and a twisting dark thriller of a book. Maitland tells a well plotted and enjoyable story. I now want to read other books by this author as she has written two more set around the same period.

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