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Company of Liars (2008)

by Karen Maitland

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1,6421099,346 (3.74)169
In 1348, as the Black Plague holds England in it's grip, nine strangers attempt to outrun death. Each member has their own story to tell and each has a secret.
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» See also 169 mentions

English (105)  Dutch (3)  French (1)  All languages (109)
Showing 1-5 of 105 (next | show all)
Loved the narrator in this one, and the story was well-written and fun to read. The fact that everyone was keeping secrets made it a guessing game all the way through, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I figured out some secrets and not others, and the ending was right out of a horror movie, giving you one last scare just when you thought it was all over . Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction who aren't averse to a few scares. ( )
  Harks | Dec 17, 2022 |
Set in 1348 England, nine strangers form a group and travel together to escape the spreading pestilence. The narrator, Camelot, is a seller of religious relics. He is joined by a magician, a musician, the musician’s young apprentice, a storyteller, a fortune-teller, a midwife, and an artist and his wife. The fortune teller, a peculiar child, reads runes, and she foretells of impending malevolent events. The travelers tell tales around the nighttime fire, revealing parts of the past, though not always the truth. Gradually, their secrets are discovered.

Superstitions of the era influence the journey. They believe in witches and the supernatural. They think a wolf or werewolf is following them. Dramatic tension is maintained by wondering what evils will befall the group. The narrative is driven by the sequential uncovering of secrets. The tone is eerie. The reader will feel a sense of foreboding. We know something bad is going to happen and are waiting for the axe to fall.

I do not usually enjoy scary stories, but I quite enjoyed this one. It is well-crafted. I was drawn into the storyline of each character and interested in their journey. It reminds me of a darker version of The Canterbury Tales, sans Middle English verse, which I am sure is intentional on the author’s part.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Strange how desperate people are to know the future, even if they know they cannot change it.

Besides, if you can read the future, you can read the past for they are but ends of the same thread, and I always take great care that no one should know anything of me except my present.


A Company of Liars is the story of a group of nine strangers who travel together in an effort to escape the plague that is spreading death throughout England. It is not simply a story about travelers or pestilence, however, it is also a story about darkness, superstition, secrets and guilt. Each of the travelers has a secret, and it is the interpersonal relationships and the unraveling of those secrets that keep the reader enthralled.

There are a few historical inaccuracies that spring off the page in a somewhat jarring way, and there are sensibilities expressed that would seem unlikely, if not impossible, in the 14th Century setting, but those are not enough to undo the good parts of this novel. The narrator, Camelot, is well-drawn and one easily slides into seeing the events through his eyes. It doesn’t take much to guess who the true culprit among the travelers is, but that does not spoil the fun either, because you want to know why more than who and you certainly want to know each person’s story and how they came to this place in their lives.

For me to give a book a 4 or 5-star rating, it almost always has to offer something deeper than just a good tale. This is a good tale, but I think there is also a layer beneath that which explores the purpose of lies in the lives of men and whether that withholding of the truth can ever be a good thing. What tortures these people are not really outside forces but the things they know about themselves--the things they lie about. It begs the question of whether all of us are hiding something, and whether we lie to ourselves about why we lie. So, 4-stars for leaving me with something to ponder when I go to my rest tonight. Excellent debut effort.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Set in the style of the pilgrim story (think Chaucer's Canterbury Tales), Maitland weaves together the lives of 9 strangers. Each has a story to tell, as well as many lies, and it is often left up to the reader to figure out which is which before the big reveal. Many are easy to figure out, but a few keep you guessing (sure but not quite sure) right until the grande finale.

The story is set during the great outbreak of the Plague in England, so the story has a definitive macabre and menacing feel from the outset. The host of characters survive (or avoid) the Plague, but this only serves to make their deaths less expected and drives home the fact that even without infectious disease the Middle Ages were a dangerous time. ( )
  JaimieRiella | Feb 25, 2021 |
Plus a half star because it was very engaging, but I did get a bit impatient towards the end. Started well and gave a convincing view of the madness and panic at the breaking down of civil society as the plague spread but ultimately the characters did not really convince me, particularly the ones who survived. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | Jan 23, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 105 (next | show all)
Every historical novel has its “Aren’t you glad?” moments. In COMPANY OF LIARS, a jewel of a medieval mystery by Karen Maitland, those would be the times when you realize how lucky you are not to be living in England in 1348, when three separate plagues broke out among a population already beaten down by the deprivations of the Hundred Years War.

added by y2pk | editNew York Times, Marilyn Stasio (Oct 31, 2008)
 
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Epigraph
The truth is often a terrible weapon of aggression.
It is possible to lie, and even to murder, for the truth.


Alfred Adler, psychiatrist

Wir haben die Lüge nötig ... um zu leben.
We need lies ... in order to live.


Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, philosopher
Dedication
In memory of my great-aunt, Jane West. A woman of infinite compassion, who taught me to love nature, history, and stories.
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'So that's settled then, we bury her alive in the iron bridle'.
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In 1348, as the Black Plague holds England in it's grip, nine strangers attempt to outrun death. Each member has their own story to tell and each has a secret.

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Haiku summary
The plague has arrived.
The liars' company flees.
Secrets are revealed.
(passion4reading)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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