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Series: Pillars of the Earth #1
Published by NAL Trade on February 4th 2002
Genres: historical fiction
Source: the library
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For the Movie tie-in edition with the same ISBN go to this Alternate Cover Edition
Ken Follett is known worldwide as the master of split-second suspense, but his most beloved and bestselling book tells the magnificent tale of a twelfth-century monk driven to do the seemingly impossible: build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.
Everything readers expect from Follett is here: intrigue, fast-paced action, and passionate romance. But what makes The Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time the twelfth century; the place feudal England; and the subject the building of a glorious cathedral. Follett has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape. Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life.
The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the center of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king.
So, as far as I know, this is the second time reading this book. I’ve said – ever since I read it the first time – that this was one of my all time favorite books. After rereading it – eh. It’s still a great book, it was definitely worth rereading – especially since the third book, A Column of Fire, is coming out this fall – but, one of my all time favorite books? Maybe in my top 50 or 100 – but definitely not in my top 25.
So, this is a huge chunkster of a book – which I LOVE – the main storyline is about the building of a church, but there is so much more to do. There’s a huge cast of characters, but really, not so many you can’t keep track of them all (a pet peeve of mine). You do totally get swept up in the storytelling, the character’s lives, their anguish, heartbreaks, the lows and the highs of their lives… but in rereading this, I wasn’t as emotionally involved as I was the first time (I’m curious, if you’ve reread the book too, did you feel the same way?). Which, admittedly – took away ALOT of the joy in reading this book. For me, I read to get swept away, I want to be involved and care about the characters. I didn’t quite care as much this time around.
Honestly, I felt like the characters were the same as in every other book – the bad guys were really really bad, and the good guys weren’t even really all that good; they were just normal guys. There are a lot of strong women in this book, which is great to see.
The church itself is fascinating – how corrupt its leaders could be, but also, how wonderful and fantastic the good guys really were. I know – from reading a lot of history – about how ambitious church leaders could be, but had forgotten how ruthless they could be.
The plot moves along at a good pace – though some sections did drag, which I think is normal for a large book. There is some foreshadowing, which you pick up on much more so on the second read.