Misfit's Reviews > The Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
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I know I'm going to be in the minority here, but this is truly one of the worst books I have ever read. I came so close to throwing the book across the room on several occasions, and ended up skipping through many pages just to get to the final and not too surprising finish.

The characters were flat and lifeless and seemed to have been transplanted from the 20th century into medieval England. The book was rife with unnecessary profanity that in no way enhanced the storyline and obscene gratuitous sex (I mean how many times did William have to rape someone to prove that he was a really really bad guy?). I noticed that at least one other reviewer commented that this book was required reading in his child's school, which if you are a parent I would recommend you take a good look at this book and perhaps take issue with your school district. As an adult I was shocked at the language and violence in this book, and find it totally inappropriate for a child and/or young adult.

I also noticed comments about the historical accuracy and research that must have been involved in writing this book. If that is so, it must only be in regards to the building of the cathedral and the civil war between Stephen and Maud. As for the rest, I must disagree, I have read many well written and researched books of medieval times (thank you Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick for such awesome reads), and I was infuriated on numerous discrepancies in this book. Examples and anyone may correct me if I'm mistaken as I am not a history major:

* Aliena is frequently described as having long, curling loose flowing hair. Women in those days wore their hair braided and covered, it being quite scandalous for any man other than her husband or lover to see it loose.

* After the attack on the castle, and the imprisonment of their father Aliena and Richard are allowed to live alone in the castle with only the steward? I doubt that the king would punish the children so for the sins of their fathers, and most likely would have been made wards of the king until they reached their majority. This was most desirable as the king could then skim the proceeds off the estates and funnel them to the crown's use. Sometimes a king would give ward ship to another party as a reward for service, etc.

* Young boys of the noble class were typically sent to another noble household to be raised and educated, first as squires and then trained in that household as a knight. What on earth was a teenaged Richard doing living at home?

* Much was made of William's warhorse. These were formidable beasts that were not easily handled by strangers. Yet Aliena and Richard were able to not only saddle the warhorse, but to get right on and ride it? I don't think so.

* The English nobility of that period were Norman French and did not speak the language of the peasant class. So how did Aliena manage to not only communicate with them, but could set up a successful business in that atmosphere?

I could go on with more examples if I had remembered to take notes, but there were many similar instances to this throughout the book. All I can say is that if you want to read a very well written and researched book on this period, please see Sharon Kay Penman's When Christ and His Saints Slept and Time and Chance (Ballantine Reader's Circle). JMO.
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message 37: by Rima (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rima Jean YES!!! The characters are COMPLETELY one-dimensional. There is no way to love this book as fiction - not for me.


Bellabas You said exactly what I was thinking particularly about the characters being transplanted from the 20th century. Similarly my walls were on tenterhooks during the torturous time that I spent reading this very ordinary book.


Misfit Thanks for that, glad to know I'm not the only one with *almost* damaged walls :)


message 34: by Lisa Kay (new)

Lisa Kay What an insightful and wonderful review, Misfit. When I am thinking of reading a book I like to read a ★★★★★ and a ★ review for balance...and maybe a ★★★ if I still interested. I'm glad I read yours. One of the things that draw me to the medieval era is a book with well executed historical accuracy. Some of the things you mentioned could drag me right back out of it.


Misfit Lisa Kay wrote: "What an insightful and wonderful review, Misfit. When I am thinking of reading a book I like to read a ★★★★★ and a ★ review for balance...and maybe a ★★★ if I still interested. I'm glad I read yo..."

Thanks Lisa Kay, I agree about reading the critical as well as the positive reviews. You're better off trying Penman or Chadwick IMO.


message 32: by Lisa Kay (new)

Lisa Kay I'm going to look them up right now. Thanks!!


message 31: by Lisa Kay (new)

Lisa Kay OMG! I just saw your bookshelf: "no-fricking-way" LOL! I LOVE it...and may steal it. I must confess, the exception I have for the medieval genre are books by Julie Garwood. That woman can get away with murder b/c she's so tongue-in-cheek funny (IMHO).


Misfit Heh, steal away. I love it, and use it for books I will never read, but want to put on a shelf to share in my feeds. I loved Garwood when I first got into reading historicals/romances, but after Penman and Chadwick I doubt I'd be able to go back. I will remember them fondly - but yes she is funny. Except for Shadow Music. What a bust :/


message 29: by Lisa Kay (new)

Lisa Kay I didn't read Shadow Music. One of the few JG I didn't read. Skimmed the hardcover in the bookstore and was disappointed, so didn't bother even buying the paperback. Looking at the reviews for it now, I can see a wide difference of opinion.

Thanks, Misfit, for the When Christ and His Saints Slept rec; I have it on my “to-ponder” shelf.

P.S. I might add a “wall-banger” too…I hope I don’t mislead anyone with that double triple entendre designation. LOL!


Misfit Penman is wonderful, she can take the most difficult political situations and put them together so that they are understandable and entertaining at the same time. Magic.


message 27: by Lisa Kay (new)

Lisa Kay Keep talking. I may have to move it from my "to-ponder" to my "to-read" shelf. LOL! I love that time in history. Have your ever read any of Roberta Gellis' work?


Misfit Lisa Kay wrote: "Keep talking. I may have to move it from my "to-ponder" to my "to-read" shelf. LOL! I love that time in history. Have your ever read any of Roberta Gellis' work?"

Yes I have, and the first three of her Roselynde books are the best. With Penman I'd recommend starting with her Welsh trilogy. Here be Dragons, Falls the Shadow and the Reckoning.


message 25: by Lisa Kay (new)

Lisa Kay Checking them out now.


Misfit Beth wrote: "I must confess, that inspired by and as a tribute to Misfit, I also have a wall-bangers shelf!"

I love it. I've made a list at Amazon, well actually two now since I filled the first one. It's a very helpful way of taking out frustrations on books you didn't read far enough to write a proper review.


message 23: by Lisa Kay (new)

Lisa Kay I simply adore it!
(view spoiler)



MichelleCH Started to read it...eek that it is required reading in ANY school - there are just so many better books out there, Penman anyone?


Misfit I know. I came to this after reading Penman and Chadwick and had a very hard time with it. School kids read this? *shudders*


message 20: by Lance (new) - added it

Lance Greenfield I have read, and appreciated, reviews of this book from both ends of the rating scale.

I confess to having had the book in my hand several times, but I have been put off by the page count. It is a huge novel. If it were as enthralling as the five star reviews would have me believe, I would be able to plough through it with no problems at all. However, having read your honest review, I already know that The Pillars of the Earth would frustrate and irritate me.

I'll set it to one side. Perhaps there will come a day when I will be tempted to find out for myself.


Misfit Thanks Lance. There's always the option of page skimming :)


message 18: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex I have never rated a book as a "1 star" (with the exception of the Dark Tower books by Stephen King which I plodded through the first one because King had never failed me before). No it's not because I am just brilliant at picking only books I'll love, it's simply because I won't read a book that I despise from the very opening pages--as so many of the "1 star" ers on here seem to want to tell us ad nausem. Don't like it? Not entertaining to you? Then why in the hell would you continue reading it. Personally I thought the book was excellent--though I do agree with the critics who lament the one-dimensional aspects of the characters.


Misfit I have never rated a book as a "1 star" (with the exception of the Dark Tower books by Stephen King which I plodded through the first one because King had never failed me before). No it's not because I am just brilliant at picking only books I'll love, it's simply because I won't read a book that I despise from the very opening pages--as so many of the "1 star" ers on here seem to want to tell us ad nausem. Don't like it? Not entertaining to you? Then why in the hell would you continue reading it. Personally I thought the book was excellent--though I do agree with the critics who lament the one-dimensional aspects of the characters.

Why in the "hell" did I continue to read it? Because after all the glowing gushy reviews I thought it might actually improve? Perhaps it was like a run away freight train and I couldn't take my eyes away from the horrow of it all? Honestly, it's been some years since I slogged through this so I don't recall the specifics. Neither here nor there, it was my opinion and I would hope others respect it even if they do disagree, as I would respect fellow readers who loathe books that I love.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship As I recall it was a very entertaining book, the kind you might read through wanting to know what happens next, only to realize at the end that it was crap. That's happened to me more than once and Follett's a thriller writer after all, so he knows how to keep people hooked.

In fact, I should really revise my rating of this book.... when I reviewed it I was still under its spell.


Misfit I think the main problem for me is that I read this after reading Chadwick and Penman's medievals, and I was lead to believe the Follett book was accurate. If I'd looked at all the reviews, especially the critical ones, I would have realized it wasn't the book for me.

Alex does seem to be busy making similar comments under other critical reviews of this book.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship I have never understood why some people want to attack people who disliked a popular book. Tons of people loved it, so why take so personally the ones that didn't?


message 13: by Kerrie (last edited Mar 09, 2012 03:55PM) (new) - added it

Kerrie I've tried reading this book a few times and always put it down for something else. You're right, the characters are flat flat flat. The only other Follett book I've read is A Dangerous Fortune which was awful, so I don't have much hopes for any of his other works (except apparently the thrillers which isn't a genre I even read).


Misfit We are not all going to like the same books all the time - that's life. Even from scanning through my friend's ratings on this I see opiniond are all over the map. Critical reviews are a good thing, so that others can decide of a book fits or not, thus reducing additional one star reviews.


Kayleigh One thing that drove me totally nuts, probably more because I had just finished reading a non-fiction history book where this fact was pointed out right before I read Pillars, was the scene in the beginning where Agnes is giving birth and Tom unbuttons her tunic. Remarkable considering royalty didn't even start enjoying the revolutionary button on their clothes for another 200-odd years... how did a peasant in the 12th century get a hold of them? Time machine?


Misfit Oh, excellent point on the button. I loathed this book, but I'm in the minority.


Kayleigh Yeah I didn't HATE it - I got through it and was just dissatisfied a bit throughout and by the end. I can deal with that - for me the worst book is a boring book. I have some I've tried to pick up and read a couple times and I just CAN'T get interested - to me that's unforgivable in a novel. I can deal with not so great characterization or innaccuracies in the same way I can handle a cheesy TV show... but failing to capture my interest is just the worst IMO!


Laurie I totally agree with this review. I was tempted to throw the book out my window.


message 7: by Rhett (new)

Rhett Thanks, I personally avoid reading books that focus solely on jumping from one sex scene to the next and get really pissed off when I pick one up. I tried the Game of Thrones Series and was equally disappointed. After reading for a while I ran into the first scene in this book and as is my custom I went online to see if it continues just for the heck of it, or if it was a scene for those who need it...

Thanks, I'm bummed to have to put it down, but am glad I stopped while I was ahead.


Misfit Glad to have helped. Also glad to know I'm not the only one who couldn't get into Game of Thrones.


Stacy I wanted to jump through the book and beat the crap out of people! I spent most of my time being furious! How much revenge does one person need? It was like an awful soap opera.


message 4: by J.z. (new)

J.z. Misfit, the intro to your review is hilarious. You should warn people before they read your review. I was eating lunch and chocked, I was laughing so hard. Thanks for the review. A friend recommended this, but given that it is 900 pages, and people who hate it REALLY hate it, I think I will pass. Just don't tell my friend. peace.


Misfit J.z. wrote: "Misfit, the intro to your review is hilarious. You should warn people before they read your review. I was eating lunch and chocked, I was laughing so hard. Thanks for the review. A friend recomm..."

Always happy to makes folks laugh. Library only, then buy it if you love it.


Paul Azzario What unnecessary profanity? The odd word here and there out of almost a thousand pages? C'mon! True it is a wee bit flawed and perhaps a wee bit predictable at times, but pretty enjoyable all in all.


Misfit Paul wrote: "What unnecessary profanity? The odd word here and there out of almost a thousand pages? C'mon! True it is a wee bit flawed and perhaps a wee bit predictable at times, but pretty enjoyable all in all."

I am glad you enjoyed it, but this review is strictly my opinion and in my opinion the book stunk.


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