Monday, December 28, 2009

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland - 480 pgs

Book CoverAs the plague races across the English countryside during the summer of 1348, a company of nine unlikely travelers come together in a desperate hope to outrun it. Each carries a devastating secret that they are hiding from the others and one will bring about a swift and terrible retribution upon those who are keeping things hidden. The group includes Camelot, an itinerant peddler of holy relics who quickly becomes the leader of the company; a minstrel and his young, hot-headed apprentice; and a strange disfigured man on the run from the law. As they journey from one devastated village to the next looking for refuge, they each discover that their companions are not what they seem and they must band together, despite their reluctance, to escape the strange predator that is shadowing them and slowly decimating their group. Filled with haunting drama and unforgettable characters, Company of Liars is a dark work of fear, retribution and secrecy.

I just don't know what it is about the past few months. It seems I just can't pick a really good read for myself and it's been quite frustrating. I am doubly aggrieved that this book was so disappointing because I had been so excited to read it and had saved it for myself to savor during a reading slump. Needless to say, it didn't pull me out of my slump at all. This book had great potential and a truly terrific sounding plot, but somehow things really fell short for me. I don't know whether this is because I had some unrealistic expectations for it or because it was just such a messy book. First of all, I felt that the pacing of the book was just glacial. There was too much space between action scenes and that space was not utilized in a creative way at all. There was a lot of useless meandering of the plot and character descriptions and it gave the book a very unwieldy quality that I found intensely boring. In fact, it took me forever to get through the book because my attention wandered so much, and once I put it down, I was hard pressed to find a reason to pick it up again.

As I have said in other reviews, books that deal with the plague have instant appeal to me. I guess you could say that the plague is one of my specialties. I was very disappointed that this book was ostensibly about the plague but failed to deliver what I had hoped for. It seemed that the plague was only included in the story as a plot device. It was the impetus for the story, but not the story itself, which I only discovered about halfway through the book. Normally this wouldn't bother me so much, but I felt like I had been a bit snowed into expecting something that was not fully delivered to me. In fact, the plague took up such little page space that it was easy to forget it was there at all. It felt like the author pulled the plague card out of her pocket whenever the story became too heavy handed, as a way of reminding the reader just what the purpose of the travelers' journey was. I think that if the author had focused a bit more on this element of the story the book would have been more appealing to me.

On the other hand, I did feel like the book had some great character portrayals and that each character was fully realized and three dimensional. The problem that I had was that despite this, I didn't really feel like I could connect with any of them, and that made it harder for me to get invested in their plights. Don't get me wrong, I did like some of them, but there was just such a strangeness to them and they were just too secretive to get a real handle on. I think that might have been an intentional construct by the author, but whatever the reason, it left a bad taste in my mouth and frustrated me. The characters were creatively crafted and were very unique, but the author didn't use that to her advantage. Instead she dulled them and softened their impact by making them so hard to connect with.

Another problem that I had with the book was that the writing felt very raw. There were points where there was just too much exposition and the back story was introduced in a very clunky andunsmooth way. I am aware that this is the author's first book, but there is a reason that editors exist, and in my opinion, the editing was lax. I didn't like the wandering and unfocused quality of the writing and I felt that much of the book lacked direction. The writing felt labored and slow and it gave the appearance that the author was really struggling with her story.

In all fairness, I don't think I can recommend this book to anyone. It was much too dark to fully enjoy and the myriad problems I had with it prevent me from giving it a thumbs up in any way. I am hoping that I can soon find a book that not only whets my appetite but fully delivers on its potential. In the meantime, if anyone knows of a book that surely won't disappoint, I am all ears!


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This is really strange as this book had been on my wish list for a while, and yesterday I deleted some wish listed books and this was one of them...LOL

Looks like I probably did the right thing. Sorry this was a bit disappointing for you.

Steph said...

I picked this one up from the library a few months ago, but wound up returning it unread - I suspected from the first few pages that it was going to be a laborious bore, so I didn't even bother. I'm sorry to hear that I was right, because every time I saw this book it always looked so promising...

And you know I can sympathize with the reading slump. But my suggestion? Anything Jane Austen. I'm reading Northanger Abbey right now and it's made me remember that Austen can do no wrong!

Sandy Nawrot said...

My reading slumps have always been reversed by a Connie May Fowler book, personally. Love her to death. I also love plague books...The Road, The Pesthouse, and the ever-wonderful The Stand. I'll make sure I don't fall for the plague hook in this one!

Aarti said...

I didn't like this book when I read it, either. I thought that the characters were too dramatic and that their tales weren't all that interesting. I heard that there is supposed to be a sequel, too. I prefer The Canterbury Tales myself!

As for a good book- I think you should read a REALLY good one before we tackle Bone People! Wish Her Safe at Home :-)

Elizabeth said...

Oh, I didn't want to hear this! I will probably still read it at some point, but I think it's good to know going in that I might have a few problems.

As for a slump-buster, try The Lost City of Z. It's immediately engaging, and a quick read.

bermudaonion said...

Thanks for the review. Now I know to skip this one.

Melissa said...

Sorry to hear this one didn't work for you! I hate trying to get out of a reading slump. 480 pages is pretty long, especially if the action is spread out.

I haven't read too many books about the plague, but I will be staying away from this one.

Marie Cloutier said...

I'm sorry this didn't work out. My husband tried reading it and also didn't care for it. Better luck next time I guess. Happy New Year anyway- I hope 2010 is filled with great reads!:-)

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