This one sat on my “to-read” shelf for a while (not sure why!), and it shouldn’t have. Once I picked it up, it hooked me good and well and I enjoyed the hell out of it.
“I’d believed mine was the greatest of all the arts, the noblest of all the lies, the creation of hope. I thought hope could overcome everything, but I was wrong. Hope cannot overcome truth. Hope and truth cannot co-exist. Truth destroys hope. The most savage cruelties man inflicts on man are committed in the pursuit of truth. My last lie had been the most honest, the most honorable of them all, for there is an art greater even than the creation of hope. The greatest art of all is the destruction of truth.”
Karen Maitland’s Company of Liars is set in 1348, as the black plague begins to roll across Europe. It focuses on a group of nine people, and like The Canterbury Tales (which I quite enjoyed in ninth grade, despite having the worst English teacher ever), they come together over time, share their stories and enjoy each others companionship. They also fight constantly, scheme against each other and lie without compunction.
The big drive of the story, beyond their getting somewhere safe beyond the plague and their various human pursuers, is discovering the lies each person holds. The married couple, the psychic, the Italian musician and his protege, the old traveler, etc. Each of them has a secret, each of them is living a lie. I was able to guess a few, but a few of them blindsided me and kept me guessing. That, and who was going to die next….
The writing style is great — I think I was expecting something stuffier but Maitland strikes a good balance of 14th century story with a 21st century style. Excellent read.