Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Argh. I wrote the review for this once, but it accidently got deleted. I'm sure it won't be quite as good the second time around, but here I go! I started writing this last week, so the dates are a bit off!

I just finished the nearly 1000 page opus The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett today after working at it for nearly two weeks. It was well worth the time and effort. I thought the book was excellent and another good selection by Oprah. It was rather a surprising selection though - this book is a true historical fiction novel, which is something I really like, but I haven't noticed Oprah picking very much historical fiction through the years. I had never heard of this book before and am glad Oprah picked it and put it in the spotlight so that I could learn about it and read it!

The Pillars of the Earth is a sweeping historical epic that is set in medival England and surrounds the building of a new cathedral in the fictional village of Kingsbridge. The novel also centers on the lives of the main people who have an influence on the cathedral such as Tom Builder, a master builder and architect, and his family as well as Prior Philip, the prior in charge of the monastery that commisions the building of the new cathedral after the old one burns. There are several very interesting colorful main characters that show up throughout the novel.

The novel is set during the era after King Henry I's death and the civil war that broke out between those that supported Henry's daughter Matilda and his nephew Stephen to be the next ruler of England. This civil war lasted for around two decades and is a fascinating era of history I've enjoyed reading about previously.

I was very interested in the politics in the novel that Prior Philip had to struggle with in order to get his cathedral built. With the changing tides of the civil war, the fortunes also changed at the building site. I know politics are involved with engineering and construction projects these days, but it was interesting to note that they were even more so 800 years ago!

I enjoyed the novel as it wove the stories of several peoples' lives through the uniting project of the cathedral construction. The stories were very intriguing and I especially liked how there were strong female characters. Even though this was a long novel, I found myself unable to put it down and wondering how the characters would be able to find their way through each trial!

I thought the "evil" characters were kind of cardboard characters. After awhile, I found myself wondering how evil these people could get!! There were slight additions to each evil character as you made your way through the novel that helped round them out. William Hamleigh's fear of hell for instance helped to round him out and explain some of his actions.

I also thought the last 1/3 or so of the book lost steam. It may be because I really liked the characters of Tom Builder and Prior Philip and they weren't central to the story at this point in the novel. Did anyone else feel this way?

If you are looking for a very interesting, well written book about the 12th century - I highly recommend this novel!

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