Ken Follett is primarily known to readers for his espionage thrillers, perhaps most notably for the Edgar award-winning Eye of the Needle from 1978. However many of us love him for his beautifully executed historical epic, Pillars of the Earth.
Written in 1989, Pillars takes place in the fictional 12th century English medieval market town of Kingsbridge and details the machinations between church, crown and the common man in an effort to build of the town’s cathedral. The characters are well-developed and Follett shows an obvious passion for architecture in his descriptions of the gothic cathedral. This book was selected for Oprah’s Book Club in 2007.
Those who loved the characters and the world of Pillars were thrilled when a sequel called World Without End was released in the fall of 2007. It hit #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers List on October 28th, 2007, and remained on the list another 6 months! The book is long, over 1000 pages, but you will read it far more quickly than you might expect – because once you start, you can’t put it down.
This sequel takes place in the same locale, but two centuries later, and features the descendents of the characters in Pillars. It is the start of the Hundred Years War and the time of the Black Death, and the people of Kingsbridge are spared by neither of these historical events. Architecture, ranging from a radical new bridge design to the rebuilding of the cathedral’s tower, again plays an important role in the story. The addition of a nunnery, and some strong female characters, make the plight and power (or lack thereof) of the medieval woman an important theme in the book.
The scope of this story takes in the predicaments of landless laborers, the influence of town aldermen, parish politics, medieval medicine, witchcraft, the role of the guilds and, of course, the power of the crown. Again, Follett delights with his richly-detailed characters, settings and sub-plots. This book is a page-turner in the true sense of the word. A huge, sweeping saga that really sucks you in to another world, one you are sorry to leave at the book’s end.