Why I Checked It Out: I regularly read from a variety of genres and had a craving for something historical. I hadn’t visited the Middle Ages lately during my literary travels, so it seemed like I was due for a visit. The mix of religion and superstition that were such driving factors in people’s lives during that time period fascinates me, and I’m also intrigued by the day-to-day challenges people faced in a world that lacked the modern day conveniences I take for granted. In my search for a Medieval tale, I stumbled across Karen Maitland’s book, which was billed as a take on Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” It seemed like just the thing to cure my reading craving.
What It’s About: This story follows a rag-tag group of travelers as they band together in an attempt to outrun the plague in medieval England. The crew includes a young couple expecting their first child, a magician, a pair of musicians, a one-armed storyteller, a healer and a child who can read runes. As the novel unwinds, each traveler tells a story. The tales they tell are almost fairy tales, but have much darker sides that ultimately reveal that each traveler is running not only from the plague, but also from their own dark secrets.
Why I Liked It: I loved so many things about this book. Although it’s not technically a mystery, it appealed to the mystery lover in me because each person in the group was an enigma. I could not wait to pick up the book and learn their secrets. I also found the way the characters explained themselves to be a big part of what drew me in. Their “fractured fairy tales” were not only entertaining, but also served as tools to reveal just who they really were and what they were running from. As their stories were told I found myself repeatedly guessing as to who might be telling the truth and who might be fabricating their story. The books is also highly atmospheric as Maitland beautifully captures the dreary, waterlogged setting of England in 1348. That actually was an incredibly rainy year, and the author expertly incorporated that into her story, making the travelers’ journey that much more difficult with mud to get stuck in and washed out roads to navigate around.
Who Will Like It: Readers who enjoy the historical detail of books by Ken Follett and the way that he tells a story through characters of multiple backgrounds will probably be drawn into Maitland’s book. Readers who love the suspense in the medieval mysteries of Ariana Franklin and C.J. Sansom will find this to be a compelling read.