Company of Liars
Delta, 2010 (2008)
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Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai
aren Maitland evokes the desperation and superstitions of those living in England during the Middle Ages, when war, weather and pestilence (or the plague) ravaged the countryside, decimating the population, forcing desperate and starving people to flee their homes in an attempt to outrun the devastation of the morte bleue. The narrator, Camelot, a term used for a medieval peddler, sells
and admits during the course of the novel that few of these are real; this Camelot is merely selling hope to those who have little to hope for.
amelot's journey away from the area first infected with the bubonic plague on Midsummer's Day 1348, gradually includes a variety of travelling companions; a master musician, Rodrigo and his pupil, Jofre, both originally from Italy; an itinerant magician, Zophiel who travels with his prized exhibit, a
and several other mysterious boxes that no one is allowed to see; a young couple, Adela and Osmond, expecting their first child; Pleasance, a herbalist and her young companion, Narigorm, an albino child who excels in the art of reading runes, or fortunes, and finally storyteller Cygnus, a young man born with one deformed, paddle-like arm that he has carefully attached to a swan's wing. The travellers learn to endure the hardships of the road, the incessant rain and mud that forces them to alter course more than once and the biting cold that numbs their limbs.
amelot and this motley crew of travellers each has a deep secret to hide; as their journey progresses they have to face their own demons. The companions desperately try to outrun the wildfire spread of the plague and, for their own reasons, several are cautious to avoid any confrontations with the law. However, the deterioration in their physical health through lack of adequate food and numbing cold is nothing to the psychological terror brought about by the fact they appear to be followed by a wolf. Most nights the howl of the wolf can be heard, getting ever closer and the company is increasingly affected. Camelot becomes more and more wary of the mysterious child Narigorm, who has an uncanny knack of prophesying the disasters that befall one after another of the travellers. Who will survive this journey, who will succumb to the plague or their own demons?
his is the second time I have read
Company of Liars
and it has been as rewarding the second time as it was the first. Karen Maitland takes us on an incredible journey; we become intimately involved with her characters and constantly surprised by the plot's twists and turns. Medieval England and the desperation of the inhabitants during the plague are wonderfully invoked, and she introduces us to many of the myths and superstitions of that time. A
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