Company of Liars – Karen Maitland // The Reluctant Assassin/The Hangman’s Revolution – Eoin Colfer

I don’t think I’ve ever done a post of THREE books…but one I finished on Sunday, the next on Monday, and the last one on Thursday.

Company of Liars:

“In this extraordinary novel, Karen Maitland delivers a dazzling reinterpretation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales—an ingenious alchemy of history, mystery, and powerful human drama.

The year is 1348. The Black Plague grips the country. In a world ruled by faith and fear, nine desperate strangers, brought together by chance, attempt to outrun the certain death that is running inexorably toward them.

Each member of this motley company has a story to tell. From Camelot, the relic-seller who will become the group’s leader, to Cygnus, the one-armed storyteller . . . from the strange, silent child called Narigorm to a painter and his pregnant wife, each has a secret. None is what they seem. And one among them conceals the darkest secret of all—propelling these liars to a destiny they never saw coming.

Magical, heart-quickening, and raw, Company of Liars is a work of vaulting imagination from a powerful new voice in historical fiction.”

This one took me forever to finish. I felt like nothing really happened until somewhere around page 300, and by that point I had already started skimming. So many long descriptions! Which were good and really gave you a feel for the time (the 1300’s), but it got tiresome after a certain point because I just wanted action.

I also found that the character I wanted to learn more about was the “villain” of the piece – Narigorm, the weird little witch girl. She was in it but not in it. A big part with very little background detail. That might have been the point – because she was so mysterious – but I would have welcomed pages of description for her and her life-before-the-company. I also liked Cygnus but he didn’t last long.

That was my other problem: once the story actually got moving, it seemed very formulaic: Narigorm reads her runes and indicates that someone’s secret is about to be spilled; the person she implies to be in trouble goes missing late at night; the next morning, the same person is found dead – either a brutal murder or an apparent suicide.

There were nine people in the company, and by the time it ended, only four – excluding Narigorm – survived. I will admit that most of the secrets were quite scandalous, especially for that time period, but, had they been revealed a little sooner, it might not have taken me so long to get into the story.

The best parts were the “tales” that each traveller told. I wanted more of those.

The Reluctant Assassin:

“Riley, a teen orphan boy living in Victorian London, has had the misfortune of being apprenticed to Albert Garrick, an illusionist who has fallen on difficult times and now uses his unique conjuring skills to gain access to victims’ dwellings. On one such escapade, Garrick brings his reluctant apprentice along and urges him to commit his first killing. When the intended victim turns out to be a scientist from the future, part of the FBI’s Witness Anonymous Relocation Program (WARP), Riley is unwittingly transported via wormhole to modern day London, followed closely by Garrick.

In modern London, Riley is helped by Chevron Savano, a nineteen-year-old FBI agent sent to London as punishment after a disastrous undercover, anti-terrorist operation in Los Angeles. Together Riley and Chevie must evade Garrick, who has been fundamentally altered by his trip through the wormhole. Garrick is now not only evil, but he also possesses all of the scientist’s knowledge. He is determined to track Riley down and use the timekey in Chevie’s possession to make his way back to Victorian London where he can literally change the world.”

and it’s sequel, The Hangman’s Revolution:

“Young FBI agent Chevie Savano arrives back in modern-day London after a time-trip to the Victorian age, to find the present very different from the one she left. Europe is being run by a Fascist movement known as the Boxites, who control their territory through intimidation and terror. Chevie’s memories come back to her in fragments, and just as she is learning about the WARP program from Professor Charles Smart, inventor of the time machine, he is killed by secret service police. Now they are after Chevie, too, but she escapes–into the past. She finds Riley, who is being pursued by futuristic soldiers, and saves him. Working together again, it is up to Chevie and Riley to find the enigmatic Colonel Clayton Box, who is intent on escalating his power, and stop him before he can launch missiles at the capitals of Europe.”

I think I liked the sequel more, but they were both good, if not occasionally confusing. I spent much of the sequel wondering how the future-travellers were going to adapt if they changed the course of history. Just re-reading that sentence causes me to furrow my brow in consternation. But that can’t be helped because time travel is, as Ron Stoppable one said, “a cornucopia of disturbing concepts”.

I’ve read most of Eoin Colfer’s other books, particularly the Artemis Fowl series which first came out when I was 11 and ended when I was 22. So I’m a fairly big fan. Of course, being a fan, I got the sense that Chevie Savano is basically Holly Short: spunky, sassy, and a troublemaker-with-the-law-even-though-she’s-part-of-the-law. Both are fantastic, strong female characters, but, I felt, are rather similar – except Chevie’s a human (Holly’s an elf).

The writing was very efficient: any time someone got stuck in a small space (which happened a surprising amount of times), I actually felt mildly claustrophobic just reading the descriptions. And, since I had bought them within days of each other, I knew there was a sequel, but it still didn’t stop me from feeling a little anxious about halfway through The Reluctant Assassin. And there were some colourful characters, one of the best being Otto Malarkey, a king of thieves, who plays a bigger role in book two.

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