Book review: ‘Company of Liars’
Vail CO, Colorado
VAIL, Colorado “-The road makes for strange bedfellows.
Desperate to flee the plague sweeping 14th-century England, nine strangers are thrust together in Karen Maitland’s mysterious, medieval “Company of Liars,” an ambitious novel that’s many secrets keep you wondering to its disturbing conclusion.
Of course, these are no ordinary country folk fleeing the pestilence. That would make for an ordinary story. “Company of Liars” is rife with unusual and original characters, each one harboring a dark secret.
Among those in this colorful caravan are Camelot, a dealer of religious relics, an albino little girl with a sinister sixth sense, a bard with a swan’s wing for an arm and a magician whose precious, precarious cargo makes him desperate to escape the island.
The five remaining party members are all trying to cover up something in their pasts, some secrets more unsettling than others. Naturally, all are wary of one another while trying their best to be friendly, engaging and supportive in troubled times.
Therein lies Maitland’s central theme: Are these travelers better off together or better off battling the ravages of the plague alone?
Maitland also expresses her motley crew with a sense of empathy. These may not necessarily be bad people, but people caught in bad situations. They’re products of their incredibly epidemic environment, victims of circumstances.
Maitland’s grisly descriptions of the desecrated and fetid towns and countryside are also noteworthy. She brings the decay, muck and havoc of medieval England to a vivid, visceral reality. If there is a recent author who brings a reader to time and place, it’s Maitland. And she’s so convincing that you will be glad this is a time and place you only have to read about, heaven forbid live in.
There are a slew of medieval novels on the shelf, but few deliver the visuals of “Company of Liars.” And none delivers such a disturbing portrayal of desperate people in desperate times.
Stephen Bedford and Anuschka Bales work at The Bookworm of Edwards.