Nine travelers find themselves banding together, seeking escape from the Black Death that has just arrived in England for the first time. These nine are not just travelers; they have stories to tell and secrets to hide. As they increasingly lie to one another while telling their stories, it becomes clear that what’s after them is not the plague, but their own pasts. Unfortunately for these nine wanderers, the past is not something so easily avoided.
I wanted to like this book more than I think I ended up liking it. I’ve had it for a couple years, and reading it definitely revealed to me why I was waiting; it’s very dark. It was certainly gripping at times, especially in the beginning. I enjoyed how each traveler had a story; I knew they were all lying about some aspect of their story and at first it wasn’t easy to figure out what was really going on. As the story progressed, however, the lies become fairly obvious and the plot starts to unravel a bit. Even I, who never puts any effort at all into guessing the outcome of a book, found myself predicting what was going to happen.
The story is just very grim and occasionally hard to take. This is a book set during the Black Death about a bunch of liars, so I suppose this could be expected, but the problem is that the book is also quite long. Maitland’s writing is very good and she’s quite a storyteller, but there’s only so much Black Death and murders anyone can actually take. As a result, the book felt like it started to drag, particularly towards the end. I could mainly see what was going to happen and everything was quite dark and grim – after a few days of reading one book, I felt like I needed a break before it was even over.
That said, there is also much to enjoy with this one. In particular, I loved the details that Maitland included, and I certainly felt I got a sense of how the Black Death demolished the countryside, turned people against one another, and brought out the worst in some and the best in others. Other books also do this well, and it’s something that, morbid as it is, I am very interested in. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is also an excellent choice if you share my peculiar fascination with the plague and how people reacted to it. I also liked the main character here, who has plenty of secrets to share over the course of the book. I figured out the secret, but I liked watching him figure out the other characters’ secrets as the story moved along.
All in all, I expect I’d have liked Company of Liars better if it was shorter, with a tighter plot, rather than the rambling that seems to match how the company traveled. Still, I think Maitland has talent, and of course the Middle Ages always appeal to me, so I’m looking forward to picking up future books by her.
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