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Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Pestilence is sweeping England, having arrived on its shores from Europe and sparing few. Camelot, a scarred and old medieval pedlar of relics, is doing a reasonable trade as the superstitious and religious seek any talisman they can to ward off fear and sickness. Against his better judgement, Camelot finds himself in the company of a group of strangers, all brought together through circumstance and forced to travel across England, doing everything in their power to avoid not only the judgment of the plague, but the deadly force that appears to be following them.

Told from Camelot’s point of view, this tale, set during 1348, is gripping. Over a period of months and across the desolate and literally dying English landscape and villages, we’re introduced to a disparate group of people – from Zophiel, the sharp-tongued and angry magician and his curmudgeonly horse, to Cygnus, the one-armed story-teller, a pregnant woman and her painter husband, a pair of talented Italian musicians, a troubled midwife, and the silver-haired Narigorm whose reading of the runes and strange prophecies fill them all with foreboding. As the reader gets to know each character and the dreadful secrets each person carries, we’re also plunged into the terrible realities of pestilence-torn England and the impact all the deaths and the superstitions they arouse have on society. The historical details are masterfully woven through the tale; the belief systems – both Christian and pagan – are juxtaposed and their power to influence behaviour – good and bad – are sharply and terribly drawn.

This was a marvellous book, beautifully written which draws you into this strangely claustrophobic world where friends are strangers, strangers potentially deadly and lies are safer than the truth… or are they?

For lovers of terrific books, mysteries and well-written and researched history. Sensational.

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