I read this novel in 2014, and it was probably published at least after 2000. It was set in England (I think) during the Black Death of the 14th century. I read it in English, in the UK.

The book follows a motley band of travellers who group together for safety while travelling. Each of them has some secret he or she is hiding, and one by one they die in mysterious circumstances. As I recall, the Black Death never directly affects the plot - none of them die by catching it - but it forms a backdrop to the whole story. My memories of it are quite vague, but here's as much as I can recall about the characters:

  • The viewpoint character is an older man named something like Cypriot(?).
  • Two Italian men, an older one and a younger one, with typically Italian names (I think one of their names beginning with R). Their secret is the younger one (possibly both of them?) being homosexual.
  • A boy who is apparently deformed, bearing the wings of a swan; he earns them some money by performing while telling a story about seven princes who were turned into swans. (Maybe he's the one named something like Cypriot.)
  • A couple, man and woman, the woman being pregnant. (Her name might be something like Adele?) Their secret is that they are actually brother and sister. Either that, or they originally presented themselves as brother and sister and the secret is that they're actually a couple.
  • A conjuror(?) whose name begins with Z and who is always grumpy and unfriendly. He's the main suspect who might be killing the others, until he too is killed.
  • A young girl, a child, the youngest of them all.
  • Probably one more that I don't remember. I think there were nine characters in total.

Towards the very end of the story, it turns out that

the young girl is a sort of witch, with evil magical powers, who brought about (perhaps indirectly) the deaths of most of the others. The viewpoint character is the only person who realises this, but when he tries to kill her, the others think he is a monster and abandon him alone.

The final twist, the viewpoint character's secret, is that

'he' is actually a woman, disguised as a man in order to have less trouble travelling the roads. She is secretly in love with the older Italian man, one of the remaining survivors, but now he hates her because she disposed of the witch-child.

What was this book? My vague memories of it are taunting me now, and I can't find it again.

  • 1
    So, once we have identified this book, you will suggest it as a reading challenge?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 21:07

1 Answer 1


Company of Liars (2008) by Karen Maitland.

From Goodreads:

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.

Found with the Google query fantasy book black death wings swan site:goodreads.com/book.

  • Ah yep, that's the one. I recognise the cover too. And now I see why I was confused which character was called something like "Cypriot": we've got one Camelot and one Cygnus.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 8:52

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