David 's Reviews > The Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
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's review
Dec 30, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction
Read from December 30, 2010 to January 01, 2011

Back in September my wife and I went to the national book fair in DC where the "headlining" author was Ken Follet. I had heard of him but never read any of his stuff. We got autographs from other authors, listened to other authors speak, and went home. A while later someone mentioned that Follet had written some fantastic books so I did some investigation, picked up this one as historical fiction is more appealing to me then the thrillers Follet apparently began his career with. Now I wish I had known who Follet was that day in DC...this book was amazing.

The story revolves around the building of a cathedral in the 1100s in Britain. In the background is the maneuvering of kings and lords, bishops and knights. I think the story is richer for taking place in the midst of such historical events, but not focusing on them. They affect the characters of course, but this is a story of average people. Most history books tell the stories of the movers and shakers while some attempt to tell the people's history. Follet's book is more interesting for focusing on the people's history.

One reason I so enjoyed this book was the characters. Tom Builder is a man who struggles to provide for his family and dreams of building a cathedral, something that will be around long after him. He is no perfect, often ignoring the bullying of his oldest son, but he also has a faith in God that helps earn respect from the monk he works for. This monk, Prior Philip, is the head of the monastery. He is clearly the "good guy" in the story, but he is by no means perfect as he struggles with pride and at times is forced to align himself with shady figures. One of those shady figures is Bishop Waleran who, living up to many people's stereotypes of medieval church leaders (or contemporary ones for that matter) is much more interested in his own power than anything to do with Jesus. Finally, there is William Hamleigh, an all around evil figure with no real redeeming qualities.

I can see how some would say these characters are one-dimensional, too black-and-white. Perhaps for one such as William that is true; though hints of what made him such a bad person are given I would loved to go more into how his psyche was created. Others, like Waleran, eventually do confess and try to make good. We even see redemption in one monk. Another monk holds a grudge against Philip for over thirty years for a rather minor offense, which at first seems unbelievable. Yet as I thought about it, I can imagine such shallow people holding grudges for such things.

As I read, I could not put the book down. I found myself sucked into the world Follet created. I highly recommend this book for any fan of good fiction, especially historical fiction. It should be noted there are dark, brutal parts that are uncomfortable to read, so this book is not for everyone. But again, even in such parts the real world, which itself is often dark and brutal, is reflected.

I gave this book five stars, wavering between four and five. Sure, it is not 100% historically accurate, but that is not a big deal. There are a few fair criticisms that could be mentioned: why did Aliena and Richard stay in the castle for months after their father was arrested? The answer is that they were just naive, which may not be satisfying to all readers. Could a person like William be so thoroughly evil? I guess. Also, the end of the book seems rushed (unless I just rushed through it), with the last 100 pages tying things up almost too neatly. All that taken into account, this was a fantastic book.

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