Company of Liars

Monday, May 6, 2019

Company of Liars
Karen Maitland, 2008

Premise: Nine people travel north through England in 1348, trying to outrun the plague. Each of them hides a secret that might cost their life.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel, marketed as a “reinterpretation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.” It does contain travel and storytelling, but it has more in common with a mystery novel or a horror movie than that tagline would lead you to believe.

And that’s all to the good. The historical detail is complex but never oppressive or distracting, but it’s the characters that carry the story. Each character is one thing on the surface and quite another in reality. The reveals are gradual and natural. The narrative is broken up by stories the characters tell, often to throw others off the trail toward the truth.

This is historical fiction that plays out much like a psychological thriller, with a steadily rising sense of foreboding punctuated by violence and death.

It’s a compelling, solidly written piece, and it includes enough fantastical elements to have this genre fan considering classifying it as fantasy as well.

[Content Warning: This book contains extremely violent anti-Semitism and homophobia appropriate to the historical setting.]

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

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