My father bought me Pillars of the Earth when I was twenty-two. I winced at the thought of the investment; both his and mine—it was a thousand pages long. But Dad was a salesman and did his thing, so I went for it, and Follett became one of my favorite authors. I promise you: long as it is, you won’t want it to end.
A COLUMN OF FIRE is the third book in Follett’s Kingsbridge Series. (The order, for those who care is The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, then A Column of Fire.) It follows European happenings (predominantly in England) through the mid-1550s to the early 1600s. I know what you’re thinking—YAWN—but Follett will hook you from the very first line:
We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral. It is the usual place for executions. After all, if you can’t kill a man in front of God’s face you probably shouldn’t kill him at all.
The book explores the explosive clash between forced religion and tolerance, with one faction saying things like, “We need to make sure the church takes a tough line. Otherwise your triumphs could be undermined by weak men with notions of tolerance and compromise,” and the other saying, “To start a witch hunt, you have to find some witches.”
I was enrapt by this history lesson absorbed through the lens of an English spy working to protect his queen and written by a master storyteller. Every page has a clever line. “Elizabeth’s true attitude was probably that of someone who hears two drunks fighting in the street at night: it did not matter who won so long as neither tried to get into the house.”
As usual, when I got to the end of Follett’s long book I so wished there were a thousand more pages to go. One sentence, in particular, aligned with a current-day reality that made me shudder,
When a man is certain that he knows God’s will, and is resolved to do it regardless of the cost, he is the most dangerous person in the world.
After working for years in technology, Abby turned to writing, and in 2017 her debut novel, I LIKED MY LIFE, was published by St. Martin’s Press. She’s also a human rights advocate, and when she’s not busy watching “the comedy show that is her children,” she manages to find time for one of her favorite activities, reading. Visit Abby’s website.