Monday, September 8, 2008
Review: Company of Liars, by Karen Maitland
Company of Liars is set during the Black Death of 1348. The book follows the journey of nine travelers who escape from the plague: our narrator, a Camelot who sells relics; a magician; two minstrels; a young married couple; a storyteller with a swan’s wing; and a child rune-teller and her nurse. The bubonic plague takes backseat as these nine individuals fight for their lives against something unseen in this spectacular book.
The book is advertised as a retelling of The Canterbury Tales, which I think is an unfair comparison. Aside from superficial similarities, I didn't really see parallels between the two books--in fact, I thought this novel was more like Boccaccio's Decameron. Taking those two works out of consideration, however, Company of Liars is an excellent novel all by itself.
The novel, while disturbing in some ways, is a brilliant evocation of the mid-14th century, an era in which fear, insecurity, and doubt were prominent. Maitland is brilliant at making her characters come alive, and I never got the impression that she was trying to force a modern outlook on her characters as another author might. Each of these characters has a deep, dark secret, something that they keep from the others but is not revealed until it is too late. Even Camelot has a secret, and I thought it was brilliant how the author revealed it at the end. The book’s chilling ending made me want to go back and re-read this book immediately. If you only read one book this fall, let Company of Liars be that book. To be published on September 30.
Also reviewed by: The Tome Traveller, Passages to the Past