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Author: Karen Maitland

Title: Company of Liars

Publisher: Penguin

Paperback: 548 pages

ISBN: 978-0-141-03191-0

Price: £7.99

Publication Date: 26/02/2009

It’s 1348, England is ravaged by plague and the weather is awful [some things never change – if it isn’t raining then it’s snowing]. Drawn together by their quest to escape the spread of disease is a disparate group including a horribly scarred Camelot [basically the mediaeval equivalent of a door-to-door salesman], a magician who delights in tormenting others, a winged storyteller, and a rune-reading girl. But the plague is really only a peripheral presence, a dangerous outside threat the author uses to keep the company together and stop any character from striking out on their own even when tensions do flare within the group. This allows Maitland to slowly allow the characters’ secrets to emerge – often with painful and deadly consequences.

And there really are a lot of secrets and lies to be uncovered, some of which I foresaw and others which took me by surprise. One slight complaint would be that some of these revelations are undermined by unsubtle hints earlier in the text that makes the reader realise what the ‘secret’ is long before the big reveal. But what is really brilliant about this novel is the manner in which Maitland brings the mediaeval world to life in the reader’s imagination. Whilst many historical novels would make do with setting the scene through references to who was ruling at the time or what major historical happenings were occurring, Company of Liars sets itself apart through Maitland’s attention to detail. This extends from the customs, religious beliefs and superstitions of the characters to the food that they eat [which generally sounded a bit disgusting, although probably healthier than a burger from the golden arches!].

This is a dark and brooding read, almost unremittingly bleak, with each successive lie piling atop an ever-growing mound until you are unsure as to where the truth is, or if there is even any truth at all.

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