12. Company Of Liars

Title: Company of Liars

Author: Karen Maitland

Time/Place: England, 1348

Teaser: ‘They say that if you suddenly wake with a shudder, a ghost has walked over your grave. I woke with a shudder on that Midsummer’s Day. And, although I had no way of foreseeing the evil that day would bring to all of us, it was as if in that waking moment I felt the chill of it…’

Summary: Nine strangers band together, fleeing the plague through southern England. Haunted by fear and their own lies, the company will be driven into danger in their attempt to escape the pestilence, their pasts, and a beast that stalks them in the dark.


My Thoughts:

I picked this book up because Karen Maitland had been recommended to me by someone in the writing business when I was first getting into historical reading. Although it was actually The Owl Killers that they suggested, this one captured my fancy first because it dealt with The Black Death.

The history: The Black Death is an event that everyone has heard of, and one we’d covered briefly in school, though I’ve often found the focus is usually its effect on London. It was therefore interesting in this work to read about the impact of the plague in a rural environment, a wild setting that adds to the religious and supernatural suspicions that haunt the characters. Maitland uses the plague as a fearful background to the individual stories of the company, driving the book with a sense of urgency, and the historical atmosphere is never sacrificed in favour of the characters.

The story: I was immediately sucked into this book. Both complex and easy read at the same time, it has a fascinating cast who reluctantly work together as the plot progresses. It’s often hard to make so many characters – nine is a pretty large number! – distinctive without running into cliché, but Maitland does it so well that, not only was I never confused as to who anyone was, none of the characters felt unreal either. This was the first time I’d come across an integration of Gothic and supernatural in a historical novel, and for me it is one of the highlights of the work. It melds perfectly into the medieval mindset of religious superstition, so that the reader is never certain what is real and what is imagined – perfect for what is almost a ghost story. I used to be an avid fantasy reader, and remain a fan of horror movies and Victorian Gothic literature, and this book plays with the two genres brilliantly without losing its historical believability. My only issue was that I found most of the characters’ lies a bit too easy to guess, which sometimes left turns in the plot too obvious. It is, however, testament to the skill of the story that, despite this, I was hooked throughout, storming through over 500 pages in less than a week, and was left deliciously scared at the end. This is the first of Maitland’s books that I’ve read, and I will definitely be coming back for more!

My favourite character was the protagonist, Camelot, who’s inner thoughts were the perfect balance of rational and superstitious to give the story its edge.

Recommended: You’re a fan of the gothic, like ‘patchwork’ stories about people from different walks of life, or simply want substantial yet gripping read.

My Rating: 5/5

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