It has taken nearly 20 years for Ken Follett to write the sequel to his astounding novel The Pillars of The Earth… but it was well worth the wait!
Best known as a thriller writer, Ken Follett took the world of the historical novel by storm when he published The Pillars of the Earth in 1989. Rated one of Britain’s 100 favourite novels, it was a work of breathtaking ambition and scope and memorably featured the building of a cathedral in medieval England.
A masterpiece of fictional writing, ‘Pillars’ was a tale that involved the full gamut of human emotion from love and hate, loyalty and treachery, through hope and despair to birth, rebirth and death. The book won Follett a whole new army of fans who were bowled over by his ability to create a story of such breadth and veracity.
Now it seems that ‘Pillars’ it is not be a stand-alone classic as Follett has taken up his quill again and returned to Kingsbridge – but this time 200 years later and as the city stands on the brink of one of the greatest natural disasters this country has endured.
It is 1327, the day after Halloween, and as the men, women and children of the city grapple with murder and intrigue and the battle to survive in a harsh and unrelenting age, the worst plague ever to strike the human race is about to engulf their world. Yes, the Black Death is carving an insidious, unrelenting and deadly path to the door of almost every household in Kingsbridge.
Four children – a thief, a bully, a boy genius and an ambitious young girl – witness a killing in the forest outside the city. It is an incident that will cast a long shadow over their lives – a future in which prosperity and famine, disease and war, as well as love, greed, ambition and revenge, will all play their part.
The cathedral and the priory are again at the centre of the story and readers will recognise descendants of some of the Pillars characters but the new imperative is the Black Death, its terrible consequences and the laying of the foundations of modern medicine.
Yes, all human life and emotion is here again in this magnificent microcosm of medieval England.
These descendants of Tom Builder and his fellow workers are now knights, earls, priors and merchants fighting to control the city and its trade, and weighing up the possibilities of war with France.
Merthin and Ralph, sons of a disgraced noble, are trying to restore the family’s fortunes, homeless Gwenda is forced to steal for her feckless father, the bitter and ambitious Petranilla plots her path to power through her son and the scheming prior Godwyn embarks on a struggle with Earl Roland.
Just as in ‘Pillars’, Follett’s characters are all engaged in their own personal battles, creating a vast network of plots and sub-plots that draw in the readers and carry them effortlessly through 1,100 pages of sheer unadulterated entertainment.
But unlike ‘Pillars’, which was an encyclopaedia of 12th century trades and crafts, this is more a who’s who of Kingsbridge’s powerful nobles, scheming clergy and ambitious citizens.
World Without End is like sitting in on a thoroughly enjoyable social history lesson as once again Follett brings the city and its people to life allowing us a window into the soul of medieval England. It is the portrayal of that world and its characters – their hopes and fears, the intimate details of their everyday lives, and their fortitude and resilience in the face of disease and disaster – that make this another unforgettable story.
Follett himself has always said that ‘Pillars’ was so successful that he has been nervous about trying to repeat its success. That he finally found the courage and impetus to return to Kingsbridge – and conjured up another first-class novel – is a remarkable achievement. Prepare to be amazed!
— Pam Norfolk, The Lancashire Evening Post, 31 October 2007