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Publisher's Summary

On this day of ill omen, plague makes its entrance. Within weeks, swathes of England will be darkened by death's shadow. While panic and suspicion flood the land, a small band of travelers comes together to outrun the breakdown in law and order.

But when one of their number is found hanging from a tree, the chilling discovery confirms that something more sinister than plague is in their midst. And as the runes warn of treachery, it appears no one is quite what they seem, least of all the child rune reader, who mercilessly compels each of her companions to tell their stories. And face the consequences...

©2008 Karen Maitland; (P)2008 Oakhill Publishing Ltd

What members say

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  • Overall
  • Richard
  • Pembroke Pines, FL, United States
  • 03-29-09

A teller of tales

This author is brilliant and has storytelling skills far beyond most. There are tales within tales in this book and characters you are not likely to forget soon. The one armed story teller is one, but there are more. This like all really good novels is a journey, ie; The Wizard of Oz. But this journey is through a plague ridden England in the 1300's. And no, it isn't a story about the plague. That would be everybody dies, horribly. The end. This is so much better. I listened to every word and couldn't get enough. I can only compare this book to Pillars of the earth by Ken Follett. This is a very high comparison as that is the best book I have ever downloaded and is of the same period as this. This book confirms my low opinion of the church though and I am sure not all feel the same. Some would be religious no matter how many they burned alive. I am ever amazed at that but that is not what the story is about. It is just part of what these travelers faced. One strange thing though is there are two copies of this on Audible. One is one hour less and costs two credits but can be bought for 34 bucks. The other is one hour longer with a different narrator for one credit or about 48 bucks. Both narrators sound good, so make your choice on how you are paying. The narrator on the one credit version is excellent though and would be hard to beat. Either way it is money well spent. Bravo

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Fascinating Characters - Disappointing Ending

The time period (1348), the group of characters, and the situations they encountered as they journeyed through plague-ridden England were quite interesting and I enjoyed these aspects of the story. The narrator was excellent. However, it turns out that after many hours of listening, the end, which I expect was meant to be mysterious and thought-provoking, was simply unexceptional, leaving many questions unanswered, and providing minimal resolution - quite disappointing. Ultimately, the entire story was a long journey that lead nowhere.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

But it started out so well...

The good: the narrator works his rear end off to make this sorry endeavor succeed and does it well. He was a joy to listen to. The bad: nearly everything else. How a book can begin so well and end so badly is the real mystery here. If Ms. Maitland had stuck to using her premise to create a humane story calculated to show us just how far we have come as a species, and remind us why we must continue to oppose ignorance, bigotry, supersitition, and mass violence she would have done well, and did so in the beginning. However she continued on to superimpose modern issues and morays onto a medieval story (gay hot-tubbing during the Great Plague foresooth!). This is self-indulgence of the worst sort. Futhermore she seems to have felt compelled to top each new "secret" with an even more outrageous or absurd one until, at the end, she becomes merely laughable. Well, no, in truth I held my head and cringed in embarassment for her. I listened to the end in the same way that one might watch a moving car hit a pedestrian: horrified but unable to look away.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Reader is Excellent; Book Meanders to Nowhere

The reader for the audiobook is EXCELLENT and he alone almost makes the book worth my credit. Almost.

The story on the other hand...the first two thirds of the book are well done, but then it just loses its way and never comes to a point. We are left hanging as to the fate of several of the characters and the ending is pointless and stupid. I wish the author would rewrite the last third of the book and actually come up with an ending instead of the total cop out we are asked to accept.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Well-worth reading

I'll give this book very high marks for historical accuracy - down to the cold, wet summer of 1348 and the livestock falling to the pestilence as well as humans. Compare that to Follet's World Without End, where it is always bright and sunny.

The story itself is pretty good - a group of travellers are thrown together and try to outrun the plague, while we learn about their lives and secrets. I suppose you could say the same about your typical zombie movie. It's working here, however. My main criticism would be the "twist" ending (no spoilers), which is wholly unnecessary to wrapping up the story. I suppose it does resolve the question as to why the author chose that particular voice as narrator, but the story would have worked just as well without it.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Wallen
  • Danderyd, Sweden
  • 12-18-10

Starts well ends in a smoke puff

This book starts well and the story, which is told against the backdrop of the Balck Death, is well written. The company of liars are a little too disparate to be beleivable but then again Chaucer wrote a story on the same them with similarly disparate characters.
Howerver, the story is too long and into the second part your interest vanes and into the third part is almost completely lost. Then a little suspense heightens the tempo and now this story becomes a "whodunnit" - a little unexpected, but a nice turn by the author.
At the very end all the loose threads are supposed to be tied togehter and this is where the auhor completely loses it. The "explanations" are not well composed and completely against the logic of the previous story.
Spend your time listening to something else.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A Fascinating Page Turner

This book was a wonderful experience. It never ceased to entertain, educate and please.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Wonderful story

This was a wonderful story with great characters, but there were serveral things that went unanswered that I thought would tie up in the end, but sadly they didn't. When it ended, I was surprised and I thought there was more and I thought that I forgot to download the last part. It ended to abrubly for me. Other than that, it was a good book and a good read.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Claire
  • Cape TownSouth Africa
  • 03-03-09

Throughly enjoyable!

This is the type of book that is best enjoyed as an audio book. The story consists of a lot of dialogue that is very well read and truly makes the story come alive!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Susan
  • Richmond, VA
  • 04-02-09

A little freaky

Quite a story that had me going to the end. Well written but not what I usually read. It has a very mystical twist to it. I read for total escapism and this left me feeling a bit unsettled at the end

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • I. Jamie
  • 02-02-09

A Medieval Road Movie - Well worth a listen

This is quite different from what I usually listen to, but I'm very glad I made the break. It's 1348 and the black death is sweeping England. Nine unlikely travel companions are thrown together and unite in their quest to outrun the pestillence by heading North.
The characters are nicely drawn and we get to know them through the stories they tell while sitting around the campfire trying to keep warm. The author evokes the mid 14th century well and the book seems to be well-researched (although I'm not an expert on medieval England, so it could all be rubbish!!). There is a bit of mystery thrown in, but although there are murders involved, it's not a traditional murder mystery. The end of the story is not as strong as it might have been, and clues to one of the twists in the tale are given early in the book. There is a final twist, which some might find cliched, but I enjoyed. Finally, what made this a 5-star for me was David Thorpe's narration - the story on its own would have been a four. The voice characterisation is great and consistent throughout - he really helps to bring the characters and the stories to life. Highly recommended!

108 of 109 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Andrew D.
  • 02-15-09

The Company of Liars

This is an excellent read. Very different, well written and a good mix of characters. Set in the middle ages at the beginning of the plague, each character slowly unfolds their own story, an intersting mix of myth, legend and reality, covering some big topics like incest, homosexulaity, murder, religious bigotry and racism - lots of deaths and an intersting twist at the end. Well worth the read and one of the best books I've read in the last 12 months.

59 of 61 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • L
  • 02-25-12

Utterly bewitching

These liars - or story tellers and self preservationists, and the mystery of the gruesome murderer among them - kept me company on many a long wintry walk. It is essentially a Medieval murder mystery set in the horror and chaos of the plague, but so much more. The narrator made the main character, our guide the perfectly named Camelot, instantly likeable, and it's written with great intelligence, so even if some of the tales are far fetched and fairytale-like, it's more psychological than fantastical, and could be read any way you choose. It's a great way of absorbing the Medieval way of seeing the world, especially if like me you are secular and atheist. I found myself being seduced into a superstitious mindset that made me shocked at my own susceptibility towards the end. I never thought I was into Medieval yarns, being more of a Roth and Updike fan, but this was enlightening and inspiring in so many ways, and hugely addictive. Only down side for me was a little too much explanation when the murderer is unveiled - I suppose it seemed a bit clunky since the rest was so haunting. But the world Maitland conjures stays with you long after you finish the book.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kiki
  • 12-18-11

Amazing book

This was probably the best audiobook I ever listened to - I can't imagine just reading the novel without the amazing narration with all the different voices and accents, perfectly bringing the characters to life. It doesn't happen often that I constantly want to put the audiobook on and listen and, at the same time, absolutely don't want it to end. Many reviewers here thought it was too long and drawn-out, I feel like it needed to have been even longer! I didn't like the very last chapter with the final twist at all, but I loved the rest of the book so much that I'm not going to let that spoil it for me - I definitely absolutely recommend this book, especially to people who enjoy historical novels with a mystery-crime-horror feel to it.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Monique
  • 04-01-11

A well narrated, involving drama

Not really into historical novels, but this had good reviews so thought I'd give it a try. Was not disappointed. Took a little while to become involved, but once hooked, totally smitten. This is a Grimm's Fairy Tale for adults where fact and fantasy merge into an absorbing, magical tale of friendship, courage, horror, honour, betrayal, love and lying.
The main characters are so well fleshed out that they live in physical form in your imagination. You are with them every step of their treacherous journey, booing, hissing and cheering along the way. The ending comes as such a shock that you find yourself going over the saga wondering why you missed the clues. Or, maybe they were never there? A lot of people tend to think of modern-day novels as being allegorical; make what you will of invasion, oppression, prejudice and mistrust. I'ts all here. But it could just be a wonderfully narrated, totally absorbing tale which succeeds solely on the strength of it's fantastical content. Recommended.

33 of 34 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Rogayah
  • 04-19-09

The Great Mortality

A good tale of a group of nine disparate people who come together hoping for safety in their attempt to flee the Black Death or Great Mortality.

With lots of detail about the period, interesting stories told by each character and a chilling end, this makes compelling listening. The narrator's local northern accent and good characterisation brings an added depth to the story.

48 of 50 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Julie
  • 05-04-10


I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book and didn't want it to end. The individual stories were beautifully written and the narrator was brilliant making the characters really come to life!

27 of 28 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kirstine
  • 06-14-09

An extraordinary journey

After nearly 20 hours of listening I feel I've been literally and metaphorically on an epic journey that I'm sorry has come to an end. The author has skilfully woven together history, religion and sorcery with the stories of people escaping from their pasts and the fear of the Black Death that draws together this disparate group of people to travel hither and thither trying to escape the pestilence. Rather like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, we learn something of the characters' backgrounds through the telling of their fascinating stories that enliven the basic narrative of their efforts to find the basics of life in a country ravaged by death. The reader of this long book deserves great credit for his contribution as he brings a large number of characters vividly to life and enhances the experience of listening.

31 of 33 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sara
  • 05-19-09

An intriguing listen

This was an unexpected pleasure. It's not much of a murder mystery but it's a tale well told, full of interest and intrigue. There's a lot of storytelling so it comes over very well as an audiobook. The background of the middle ages is brought to life, as are the extraordinary gang of characters. Thoroughly recommended

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Susan
  • 10-16-09

Great characters but wierd women

Like nearly all the reviewers I loved this story - slightly Chaucerian in the concept of tale telling but this was much more of an intertwined plot. I listened to it on a long drive and it certainly kept me wide awake. Just one little niggle. The author on the whole was great with men's voices although one man seemed to age about 20 years between chapters, he made many of the women sound silly. There were so many characters who spoke perhaps it might have been better to use a woman actor for the women's voices. A man with a slight falsetto using an accent which he wasn't comfortable with was a bit too jokey.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Lisa Hayes
  • 05-26-17

An ending that will stay with you.

I loved this book. The story didn't drag at any point. The pace was maintained throughout. The ending was unforgettable. The narrator was terrific.