World Without End (Follett) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
The millions of readers who enjoyed Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth (1989) will certainly enjoy its sequel, World Without End. While it would be grossly unfair to say that it's the same book with different characters, the similarities of structure give a definite feeling of deja vu.... The novel's greatest strength lies in its well-researched, beautifully detailed portrait of the late Middle Ages. Society at every level is here, mingling in an altogether convincing way. Follett shows the workings of politicians in all their corrupt glory, in both religious and temporal spheres. Of course, the best research in the world does not a story make, but Follett also comes through with a terrifically compelling plot.
Diana Gabaldon - Washington Post


Eighteen years after Pillars of the Earth weighed in with almost 1,000 pages of juicy historical fiction about the construction of a 12th-century cathedral in Kingsbridge, England, bestseller Follett returns to 14th-century Kingsbridge with an equally weighty tome that deftly braids the fate of several of the offspring of Pillars' families with such momentous events of the era as the Black Death and the wars with France. Four children, who will become a peasant's wife, a knight, a builder and a nun, share a traumatic experience that will affect each of them differently as their lives play out from 1327 to 1361. Follett studs the narrative with gems of unexpected information such as the English nobility's multilingual training and the builder's technique for carrying heavy, awkward objects. While the novel lacks the thematic unity of Pillars, readers will be captivated by the four well-drawn central characters as they prove heroic, depraved, resourceful or mean. Fans of Follett's previous medieval epic will be well rewarded.
Publishers Weekly


(Audio version.) Best known for such tightly plotted World War II thrillers as The Key to Rebecca and more contemporary suspense novels like The Third Twin, British author Follett returns to the West Country town of Kingsbridge, the setting for his huge historical epic, Pillars of the Earth, released in 1989. In Pillars, Follett uses the building of a cathedral to portray an England torn by civil war and strife that affects all levels of society. This long-awaited sequel opens 200 years later, in 1327, and continues the story of some of Jack's descendants against a backdrop of extreme change. The action centers around four children: Merthin, inventive and later a builder himself; Caris, the protofeminist, medically inclined daughter of the town alderman; Ralph, Merthin's younger bullying brother; and Gwenda, a child of a landless, thieving laborer. Venturing into the forest outside Kingsbridge, they witness an armed conflict, and Merthin learns about a secret letter. The novel explores their intersecting lives during the next three decades, with the worlds of religion, medicine, commerce, and politics vividly if disturbingly depicted in a manner reminiscent of James Clavell or Jean Auel. Actor and playwright John Lee brings a modulated, English-accented sensibility to this story; his voices add extra vitality to the narration but do not overpower it. Recommended for libraries with large historic fiction collections and those who like well-detailed historical narratives with straightforward characters whose speech is very 21st century. [Pillars of the Earth was an Oprah Book Club selection in 2007.]
David Faucheux - Library Journal


The peasants are revolting. Some, anyway. Others—the good-hearted varlets, churls and nickpurses of Follett's latest—are just fine. In a departure from his usual taut, economical procedurals (Whiteout, 2004, etc.), Follett revisits the Middle Ages in what amounts to a sort of sequel to The Pillars of the Earth (1989). The story is leisurely but never slow, turning in the shadow of the great provincial cathedral in the backwater of Kingsbridge, the fraught construction of which was the ostensible subject of the first novel. Now, in the 1330s, the cathedral is a going concern, populated by the same folks who figured in its making: intriguing clerics, sometimes clueless nobles and salt-of-the-earth types. One of the last is a resourceful young girl—and Follett's women are always resourceful, more so than the menfolk—who liberates the overflowing purse of one of those nobles. Her father has already lost a hand for thievery, but that's an insufficient deterrent in a time of hunger, and a time when the lords "were frequently away: at war, in Parliament, fighting lawsuits, or just attending on their earl or king." Thus the need for watchful if greedy bailiffs and tough sheriffs, who make Gwenda's grown-up life challenging. Follett has a nice eye for the sometimes silly clash of the classes and the aspirations of the small to become large, as with one aspiring prior who "had only a vague idea of what he would do with such power, but he felt strongly that he belonged in some elevated position in life." Alas, woe meets some of those who strive, a fact that touches off a neat little mystery at the beginning of the book, one that plays its way out across the years and implicates dozens of characters. A lively entertainment for fans of The Once and Future King, The Lord of the Rings and other multilayered epics.
Kirkus Reviews

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