Nancy McKibben's Reviews > Fall of Giants

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
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bookshelves: historical-fiction, reviewed
Recommended for: those who like fiction set in WWI; readers who like story over character

Fall of Giants
By Ken Follett

The first Follett book that I ever read, years ago, was Eye of the Needle, a WWII spy thriller that he wrote when he was just twenty-seven, well-plotted, suspenseful, ingenious. A number of other thrillers followed, several made into movies, the earlier ones better than the later, and then - surprise! - several years ago he switched genres with the wonderfully imagined Pillars of the Earth, an epic tome about the construction of a medieval cathedral.

Fall of Giants is another historical epic, the first of the so-called Century Trilogy, which begins in 1911 with a cast of characters designed to take us through the important events of the new century: a Welsh coal miner, an American attached to Wilson’s White House, two Russian brothers, a German diplomat, and an English aristocrat and his family and servants.

As we might expect, the lives of this disparate group become increasingly intertwined. The coal miner becomes a soldier who serves under the aristocratic mine owner who seduced his sister, a housekeeper for the aristocrat. The aristocrat’s sister becomes a suffragette and falls in love with the German diplomat. One of the Russian brothers immigrates to America, only to return to Russia as an American soldier - one of the surprising facts I learned was that the Allies sent troops to Russia to support the White Russians after the 1917 revolution. Indeed, Europe’s unhappy descent into World War I is very well explained, and that is one of the strengths of the book.

The author does not stint on period detail. The opening of the book, with the coal miner’s descent into the mine on his first day of work at age thirteen, is gripping, and the scenes set in Wales are among the most compelling. The reader imagines a horde of researchers working for Follett, so that he can drop lines like “she was wearing a royal blue tea gown over a pale pink lace blouse and a pink felt hat with a blue pompom” with insouciance.

No prose stylist, Follett drops some real clunkers: “Fitz stared stony-faced, but both Murray and Evans looked startled. They had not known all this personal stuff.” There we are in the trenches of World War I, and suddenly the doughboys are sounding like contemporary teenagers. The reader wishes that Follett’s editor had paid closer attention.

Still, I read all 985 pages, clunkers and all. Follett’s characters may not be rounded as we would like, and his prose may be pedestrian, but he remains a good storyteller, and he carries the reader along.

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Reading Progress

April 26, 2013 – Started Reading
April 30, 2013 – Finished Reading
May 9, 2013 – Shelved
May 9, 2013 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
May 9, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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