Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is without a doubt one of the most impressive novels I’ve read in a long time. With the background of Medieval Europe, this period specific piece centers on the building of a cathedral in the sleepy village of Kingsbridge. The author does a marvelous job depicting medieval Europe. Readers see the squalor of the peasantry, the barbarity of armored men, and the machinations of the ruling class. The buildings come to life as well. Mr. Follett’s descriptions of the period specific architecture and buildings are very accurate. But what makes this epic so powerful is the cast of memorable characters whose often volatile interactions center on the cathedral’s construction.
The characters can basically be broken down into three groups. Those associated with Tom Builder – the mason who will begin the construction of Kingsbridge Cathedral. There is the noble family of Earl Bartholomew who falls into disgrace after being accused of treason by the king. And then there’s the villainous Hamleigh family – whose treachery and vindictiveness touch all the characters in some way. It’s incredible how these characters evolve and interact with each other throughout the novel. The individual story lines build upon one another and connect to create an all-encompassing story. I’d wager to believe it was intentionally done this way to mirror the construction of the Kingsbridge cathedral.
The characters are all interesting and fleshed out. Readers will enjoy pious prior Philip, artistic idealist Jack Shareburg, and the despicable William Hamleigh as the decade’s long tale unfolds. Some of the more enjoyable moments of this epic are the “witch” Ellen’s view on the rule of Benedict, the massive battle of Lincoln’s field, and Aliena’s search of Spain for her lover Jack. The intense rivalries developed in the story seesaw back and forth throughout the years. The Earldom of Shiring once under the rule of Bartholomew is bitterly fought over between his children and the Hamleigh family. Bishop Waleran Bigod strives for influence at the expense of Prior Philip. All of these struggles and interactions occur with the backdrop of true historical events. The hundred year’s war, the crusades, and the slaying of Thomas A’ Becket are events that flow naturally with the story.
Pillars of the Earth was a massive undertaking. This is a book you’ll spend many a rainy day enjoying. The novel is nearly a thousand pages long, but as you grow entranced by Follett’s spell you hardly notice it. The amount of craft and skill that went into this book makes it appealing to any reader regardless of their interest in the time period.