Monday, 26 January 2009

Company of Liars - Karen Maitland

Having a degree in Medieval Studies I find it difficult to read historical fiction of that period because there are often so many errors I can't enjoy the story. Every now and then I take a chance and read one, and sometimes I get lucky.

If you like the historical accuracy and mystery of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, but without the requirement of understanding all the esoteric knowledge he throws in, you're going to love Company of Liars.

Told from the point of view of Camelot, a travelling relic seller, the novel takes place in 1348. Camelot ends up helping and later leading a group of men and women, who, like him, are trying to outrun both the black death (newly come to England's shores) and the coming winter. In the group are a magician anxious to get to Ireland, a very pregnant woman and her doting husband, two court minstrels unused to rustic living, a storyteller with one human arm and one swan wing, a midwife and an albino girl who reads the runes with startling accuracy. As they travel north and west Camelot begins to realize that though each traveller has told a story of where they've come from and where they're going they haven't told the truth.

And one by one, for seemingly unrelated reasons, they start dying.

Karen Maitland manages to insert a lot of details about medieval life above and beyond what's required of the story, making it informative as well as an exciting read.


The only 'negative' about this book for me was that the ending is rather abrupt. I was left with a lot of unanswered questions - which can be both bad and good depending on your tastes. It didn't help that I finished the book on my lunch break and so got to the end just as I was getting back into the story. But be prepared to turn the last page looking for more.

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