Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Set in medieval England, The Pillars of the Earth is a gripping tale of the passions, intrigue, politics and greed surrounding the construction of a 12th century cathedral.
Medieval times, cathedrals, castles, knights, deception, love, rivalry and intrigue...sounds like an interesting story. Does this best selling book set in 12th century England live up to the hype?
Let's dig into The Pillars of the Earth and find out...
What's this book about?
The central plot element of The Pillars of the Earth is the construction of a new cathedral in the fictional English town of Kingsbridge during the 12th century. But the story is really about the conflicts between the people building the cathedral and those who want to destroy it.
It is the early 12th century and England is about to erupt into civil war. The new prior of the monastery at Kingsbridge is determined to rebuild the current run down cathedral into one that will glorify God. He finds a young master builder who shares his vision of building the most beautiful cathedral in England.
Unfortunately, the local bishop is a power hungry man with other plans. He works to disrupt the prior's efforts at every turn. His frequent ally in this is a cruel and vengeful earl consumed by his own greed.
Thoughts About "The Pillars of the Earth"
The story kept my interest and flowed well. The book is 970 pages but doesn't feel long at all. With a story spanning over 50 years (1123-1174) those pages are all needed to weave this multi-generational story together effectively.
Reading this was like a medieval emotional roller coaster. There are moments of love, joy and happiness mixed in with scenes of greed, cruelty, violence and tragedy.
The book is divided into six parts with a drawing of the cathedral in its current state for the start of each part. The drawings are well done and a nice touch.
It was interesting to learn more about medieval life while reading this book. Little everyday practices such as people walking right into someone's house unannounced or bringing your horse and other livestock inside the house added flavor to the story.
This is one of those books that so engrossed me in the story, it made me want to play a computer game related to the story line. In this case, it was Lords of the Realm II where you compete against other nobles (including an untrustworthy Bishop) to control the realm.
Follett does a good job of telling the story from multiple view points. Each section or chapter is told from the perspective of one of the main characters so you get an understanding of their thoughts and actions.
The descriptions of how the cathedral is designed and built are very well done. There is enough information to picture the construction in your mind and complement the story without overwhelming the reader in technical details.
One odd thing is that the characters speak as if they are living in modern times. There's very little use of language from the time period. Maybe I'm spoiled from reading the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, but I enjoy historical fiction more when the characters sound authentic to the period.
What I Liked About This Book
1. An engaging story with interesting characters, plot twists and good pacing.
2. Detailed descriptions of the cathedrals, castles, battles and medieval life that enhance the story.
3. A cool glimpse into medieval times. I enjoyed learning about the construction of cathedrals, the political power struggles and the challenges of daily medieval life.
My Rating of "The Pillars of the Earth"
Medieval times, cathedrals, castles, knights, trickery, love, rivalry and intrigue...there's something in this book for everyone. On top of that, it's a good read and I really enjoy good historical fiction.
How Do You Rate "The Pillars of the Earth"
Historical Figures In "The Pillars of the Earth"
Several historical figures who lived during the years covered by the book were included in the story. Below are links to more info on the major historical characters:
Thomas Becket - Archbishop of Canterbury
Head of the Church of England, Thomas and Henry II were frequently in conflict over the independence of the church from the monarchy.
King of England during most of the story.
Referred to as Empress Maud in the book, she is the daughter of Henry I and rightful heir to the throne which her cousin Stephen claimed as his.
Robert - 1st Earl of Gloucester
Matilda's half brother and ally against King Stephen.
The White Ship
This ship sank in the English Channel while carrying the only legitimate heir to King Henry I. The sinking triggered several plot lines in the book.
Cathedral Image Credits
Thanks for reading my book review. Please share your thoughts below on The Pillars of the Earth, cathedrals or anything medieval.