Monday, September 28, 2009

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Setting: England, 1348
Protagonist: Camelot
Rating: 4.8
(Audiobook narrated by Maxwell Caulfield)

As the black plague sweeps across Medieval England, a band of travelers thrown together by circumstance sets out toward the north, trying to escape the pestilence. They do escape the plague, but not death, as they are killed, one by one. But by whom – or what?

This is a mystery wrapped in the supernatural. The travelers love to tell stories, especially of witches, vampires and werewolves – and at one point believe they are being hunted by a wolf. What they don’t tell are their own stories – each person carries a secret, hence the “liars” of the novel’s title. Led (and narrated) by Camelot, an old, hideously scarred peddler of religious relics, the band includes a Venetian musician and his apprentice, an albino child who reads runes, a magician who travels with a merbaby (not quite grown mermaid), a young couple expecting their first child, a midwife and healer, and a man who claims to be half-swan, and has a wing in place of one arm.

This is a book to be savored; it is not a light read, by any means. The constant rain, the travelers’ troubles and the superstitions of the era weigh the novel down. It is, however, educational – the author’s notes at the end give you an idea of the research done. And it does keep you engrossed to the very end, where one last twist awaits.

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