Karen Maitland, Company of Liars (2008)

The book was pushed into my hands by Mr. S. himself, who encouraged me not to give up. Well I didn’t, although I was tempted more than once. I was squeamish about the pandemic setting (it’s set in 1348 during the Black Plague), but that wasn’t the problem. The thing is, it’s awfully slow. I might have enjoyed it more edited of a few hundreds pages.

I had understood that it was 1. a retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales 2. a mystery. Both are rather misleading. It compares to Chaucer to the extent that a group of different people travel together due to the plague and nothing more. The cover and the blurbs already announce that each of the travellers hide some secrets about themselves from the others, and then they die one by one. I’d supposed that some would die of the plague, but that’s not the case. And the first death actually occurs past the half mark of the book!

The book is actually part historical fiction, part thriller, part supernatural. I found the mix interestingly unusual but it is not my favorite. The question is not really whodunnit but why, and I didn’t care much for each person’s secret. The ending left me frustrated as well.

Still, I enjoyed the research on people’s everyday life and beliefs in the Middle Ages, which is rather unusual. I get that people back then had a lot of supernatural beliefs, but the supernatural part of the plot itself was rather distracting to me. It made me doubt the historical part.

I have a lot of great memories of Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders regarding the 1666 Plague and it should not compare… Any recommendations on good historical novels set in the Middle Ages?

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