Company of Liars

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. The Black Plague. The Pestilence. The Great Mortality. The words themselves were considered so dangerous in the superstitious world of the mid-14th century that they were not to be spoken out loud for fear that the disease would appear as if called. It is into this setting that Maitland present her interpretation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Her band of pilgrims attempting to flee north and eastward through the English countryside ahead of the sickness is rife with mysterious characters including a relic seller with only one eye, a magician with his precious boxes, an albino child reading the runes, a young healer, and a pair of musicians.

Though the story lacks a central mystery (hence its classification as historical fiction), they all have secrets and, over the course of the months spent together, those secrets will cause havoc within the group leading to violence and betrayal. Maitland’s depiction of this troubled group, banded together against an enemy that seems to travel on the wind, is quite dark, but brilliantly done. One doesn’t feel like a part of the group, but rather like a close observer, much like the solitary wolf that seems to track them from village to village and into the wilds. Unlike their ill-fated journey, the story progresses effortlessly with each section allowing a new pilgrim to take center stage or tell their tale and the marvelous ending completes the circle begun in the prologue.

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