I was expecting a conspiring group of villains, a Suicide Squad-type team of medieval rogues, who would go about plague-riddled England causing havoc and mischief. Instead, I got a high-calibre novel of a group of outcasts who had little choice but to band together and try to escape the infection. The tensions between them are taught and brilliantly brought to the page. It is Maitland’s characterisation that kept me reading past page 100. Within 548 pages, Maitland expertly deals with Jofre coming to terms with his homosexuality – and his master’s way of dealing with the consequences of it. Cygnus’s coping mechanism with his disability, his charisma and his delusion is perfectly pitted against Zophiel’s hate, lies and prejudices. Osmond and Adela, the young runaway couple deeply in-love and expecting their first child, hide their secret painfully and bravely. The vulnerable, hurting Pleasance and her sinister child-witch ward, Narigorm, are both realistically and direly portrayed. The group is held-together by Camelot, a con-artist and pusher of fake relics, who one warms to instantly. Along the way, escaping the infection, Narigorm manipulates from each of them their dark past, the cruel path that led them to join the company. Not only are the characters realised fully, but so is the country, atmosphere and context through which they are travelling. My criticism is simply that the book wasn’t what I was expecting and wanting. I wanted, and still want, the adventures of medieval scoundrels plotting and planning escapades and jollies.
3.75 out of 5