on October 13, 2007
"World Without End" is a sequel, and comparisons are natural. Like many of the other reviewers I too had read the first volume years ago, and though I remember enjoying it very much I think that even if one does not read that book they will still experience a great read. WWE is loaded with interesting characters and literally hundreds of stories winding through the main plot. The characters come off as real and lively as well as purely evil, funny or pathetic - in other words a book chock full of something for every reader who truly enjoys settling down with a thick volume that takes effort to complete.
Follett creates and paints a believable world for his cast of characters. As usual the quality of the writing keep the story flowing and scene after scene setting up great events. Follett's characters are as usual drawn with daring, humor and more than a touch of mystery. The setting is dynamic and part of what I enjoyed the most, seeing how his creations moved through the society of the times and how they reacted, rebelled, fought and, yes, fornicated. Family life, and the society of the guilds and how they worked within the ages, and of course the conflicts that developed within that context.
Plotting is very strong, Follett should be congratulated for juggling so many characters and moving them through the scenes and situations he has created to bring out conflicts, love, hate and violence that was very much familiar to the time period. If, like me, you have enjoyed many of Follett's books, no matter what genre as much as I have then I believe you will like this one too, and very much.
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It's not possible to write a book as profoundly intriguing and moving as Pillars of the Earth, even if it is a sequel of that very book by the same author. Why? A lot of the appeal of such a groundbreaking book is in our fresh reactions to something unlike what we have read before. Once you've had those reactions, a new book is seen through different eyes and with higher expectations.
That said, most people will be pleased that they take the time to read the over 1,000 pages of World Without End. But start your expectations lower than the way you remember Pillars of the Earth.
I started late on Wednesday night and couldn't put it down until I finished today . . . with brief breaks for sleep and refreshment.
At one level, the book is simply a soap opera based in the Middle Ages where youthful encounters set lifelong enmities and alliances into motion. At another level, World Without End is a fictional history of the 14th century as seen through English eyes. At a third level, this book creates a bridge between the 14th century and the 21st century by presenting modern sensibilities in medieval dress.
World Without End returns to Kingsbridge, England, two centuries after Pillars of the Earth. Kingsbridge, the cathedral, and descendants of the key characters in Pillars of the Earth provide the continuity. But this is a Kingsbridge led by people who are either obsessed with never changing anything or by seeking personal advantage . . . regardless of the cost. As a result, when there are problems, well, it's a problem to fix things. Fortunately, the book features two extraordinary problem solvers -- Merthin, who can design and build almost anything and Caris, who can turn a profit better than the other wool dealers and heal better than the Oxford-trained monks.
In the beginning, lives are changed after Gwenda steals Sir Gerald's purse. Already in debt to the priory, Sir Gerald (a descendant of Earl Thomas, son of Thomas the Builder) gives up his lands in exchange for a meager pension and assigns his son Merthwin to be apprenticed as a carpenter and his son Ralph to serve as a possible knight in training. Wanting to try out a bow that Merthwin had made, the boys trek into the forest with Gwenda and Caris, daughter of a wealthy wool merchant. While in the forest, the four youngsters observe a knight come under attack and Merthwin becomes involved in a deadly secret.
Almost all of the major characters in the book are introduced in the first 100 pages, and you'll follow them through the next 34 years (1327-1361) as they become allies and enemies of one another. That's the soap opera aspect of the story.
The historical side is covered by a deep exploration of relations between the church and towns and the nobility and farmers. There are also side trips into the battles between the French and English and the development of Florence. This is the century where the Black Death (bubonic plague) decimated Europe, and the plague is a major part of the story line. You'll also gain a deeper understanding of medieval society as you observe how relationships among the characters shift as their position and status in society change.
For those who like a compact story, World Without End will seem endlessly long at times. But exploring all of those historical nuances takes a lot of space. I thought that for the most part the historical aspect was well done, if a little too encyclopedic. But at the end you'll know the differences among a landless laborer, a serf, and a tenant who farms land in exchange for rent. Having taken a lot of medieval history courses in college, I can report however that World Without End is a much easier way to learn this history than by reading standard history texts.
To me, the book's main flaw is in Caris. Ken Follett tries to do too much with this one woman. If the way she is portrayed had been split up among three or four characters, I think the story would have been more credible. As it is, she's a little too 21st century for the 14th century. And her position and attitudes shift way too much.
The secondary flaw is in constantly pitting the good guys and gals against the baddies: There's enough conflict to account for more than 25 books. I frankly got tired of it . . . not because it was boring . . . but because I didn't get enough respite from the unrelenting struggles.
For those who loved the cathedral building details in Pillars of the Earth, you'll feel rewarded in World Without End by learning about bridge building and repairing cathedrals. Those who enjoy economic history will be fascinated by the social effects of the Black Death in creating rights and a higher standard of living for the downtrodden.
After you finish the book, I suggest you spend some time thinking about the value of keeping good relations with everyone you come into contact with. Those you meet in the way up you may well meet on the way down.
on November 28, 2007
This book will take its place among the classics of modern literature. While I read PILLARS and liked it, I do not think that book will have the same shelf space relegated to it. WORLD WITHOUT END was written eighteen years after PILLARS and there's a reason Follett probably waited so long: he was keen on making the best novel possible. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a great story, because that's just what it is. while Follett writes historical novels---at least some of them---don't be turned off, thinking this is going to be some dry, boring read. It is not, by far. A master over his material, I'd rank this book right up there with KITE RUNNER, A THOUSDAND SPLENDID SUNS, and the novel MIDDLESEX.
A sequel to "The Pillars of the Earth", "World Without End" covers the period from 1327 to 1361, during the reign of Edward the Third.
It opens with the hiding of a document bearing on the death of Edward the Second and goes on from there to describe in detail, through the lives of the inhabitants of the cathedral town of Kingsbridge, the wars with France and the battle of Crecy, the feudal system and the relationship between nobles and serfs, the power of the Church and the political maneuverings within it, the Black death and related medical practices.
Some reviewers have objected to the scenes of sex and violence. They are present, as they are in the Old Testament. It is impossible to record the history of humankind without including two of it's prevalent practices.
Meticulously researched, well written and entertaining. For a non fiction portrayal of the same period, "A Distant Mirror" by Barbara W Tuchman is also recommended.
on July 4, 2009
"World Without End" continues the story of Kingsbridge, a medieval town noted for the awe-inspiring Gothic cathedral designed and built some 200 hundred years earlier in the 12th century by Jack Builder.
Gwenda, a female medieval version of the Artful Dodger, is one of five starving children in a very poor family. Despite the horrific punishment that sees the hands chopped off a convicted thief, she's being raised by her father to be a cut-purse and a pickpocket. Ralph is a tall, strong boy whose hopeful family see him as destined for greater things. They imagine him as the young squire of a noble knight or (dare they wish for such an impossibility?) perhaps even elevated to the rank of knighthood and nobility itself. But Ralph is an aggressive bully and although he certainly seems to have the strength and the warlike skills to achieve such an ambition, he is sadly lacking in the ability to soak up any academic learning at all. Descended from Jack Builder, Merthin seems to be the polar opposite of his stepbrother, Ralph. Merthin is a kinder, gentler, more intelligent person whose innate pragmatic genius drives him to wonder how things work and how things are built. Caris, also a descendent of Jack Builder, shares in Jack's and Merthin's intelligence but she is determined to use that academic brilliance to study medicine, an activity strictly forbidden to mere women in the 14th century.
In 1327, these four children slip away from the confines of Kingsbridge and play in the forest, a dangerous activity forbidden to them by their parents. But who among us hasn't ignored a prohibition like that at one time or another? When, to their horror, they witness a killing that they cannot understand, their lives become inextricably entwined together and it is not until many, many years later that any of them will understand the dark motives behind the brutal event in the forest that unfolded before them that day.
Of course, "World Without End" is a sequel to Ken Follett's runaway bestseller, "Pillars of the Earth" and, as you might expect, Kingsbridge Cathedral, the priory and Merthin's skills as an engineer, a mason, a designer and an architect, all play a central role in the continuing story. Caris' cousin, Godwyn, also a descendant of Tom Builder, becomes a monk at a very early age and sets his career sights very high indeed. With an abundant supply of self-confidence and arrogance, he is absolutely convinced that it is in Kingsbridge's and his own best interests that he become no less than the Prior of the cathedral. Of course, this is still the 14th century and, clearly, Godwyn, the priory and the authority of the Catholic Church will have no small part to play in the history of Kingsbridge as the story of the four children's lives begins to play out against the rich medieval backdrop that Follett provides.
Feudalism, medieval law, the iron hand of the Catholic Church, the innate male chauvinism of the day, the nobility, ongoing war against France and, of course, the Black Death that savaged Europe in the second half of the fourteenth century, all play a major role in Follett's epic tale, "World Without End". Given the setting of the story in terms of time and place, this shouldn't come as a surprise. What may come as a surprise is that, although readers of "Pillars of the Earth" who waited so long for this sequel were desperately afraid that Follett couldn't possibly repeat such a literary triumph, their worries were quite groundless. Follett has provided his fans with an epic tale that veritably leaps off the pages - bloody war and battles; greed, ambition and power; lust, love and loyalty; suspense and intrigue; and, of course, a realistic, astonishingly well developed historical setting that will transport delighted readers to the heart of medieval England.
"World Without End" is a doorstopper weighing in at a hefty 1000+ pages. But, without a doubt, it's the fastest 1000 pages that you're ever going to read and you'll still be sorry to see it end. What a story!
on October 14, 2009
I LOVED Pillars of Earth. But World Without End was a disappointment. If you haven't read Pillars then WWE might be pretty good. But I found WWE way too similar to Pillars. Same story, same characters just with different names, and same plot line. It was really bad that I could predict exactly what could happen all the time. It was also very repetitive, which is Ken Follet's writing style, but this time it was too much. The repetition made the book unnecessarily long.
Nevertheless it was an okay read. Well written and the characters well developed. Its downfall is that it is too similar to Pillars. Its not a sequel its a rewrite.
on December 10, 2009
Judging by the many positive reviews on Amazon I guess I am in the minority. I am not an avid reader but do enjoy a good book. Pillars of the Earth seemed to be in everyones hands and the topic of conversation at every social function I attended lately, so I looked past the 900+ pages and read this and enjoyed it. That being said I foolishly decided to read World Without End or as I call it, Book Without Eend. I will keep it short and sweet, Basically rape, violence and oh yes more rape. I implore you do not waste your time reading this and sit back and reflect on Pillars and how much you enjoyed it.
Having read and loved the author's epic saga, "Pillars of the Earth", a novel about the building of a cathedral in the town of Kingsbridge in twelfth century England, I very much looked forward to reading this book. I was not disappointed. This is a masterful saga of life in fourteenth century England, and the author weaves a rich and colorful tapestry of people, places, and events in the medieval town of Kingsbridge, where a magnificent cathedral now stands.
There are a number of rich and colorful characters that drive the story, and the age old battle between good and evil plays itself out through them. Spanning a period of thirty-four turbulent years, this is a spellbinding story of love, hate, betrayal, revenge, and triumph. Moreover, the Black Plague has reared its ugly head, and England will never be the same. New ideas are germinating on the horizon, coming into conflict with the settled way of doing things, and the town and people of Kingsbridge are in a state of flux.
Although the novel is a lengthy one, the reader will be unable to put the book down, so engaging and absorbing is the story. Those who are partial to the historical fiction genre will very much enjoy this book.
on February 14, 2015
Follett successfully leaves the spy genre to write this masterly novel of the Christian middle ages foretelling the battles between conservative and reform elements in church and society detailes in the historical faces of this novel Charis-Merthin-Ralph-Tilley-sam.Many other unforgettable characters. The author is able to draw one great Christian character worthy of redemption Charis(and her opposite in Ralph)as good a portrait as Anthony Trollope could sketch, as she battles the plague by reforming church,society, theology and medicine. The religious writer producers characters like Charis which the secular cant compose..virtues..attitudes..a sense of life..which makes us draw comparisons between Follett and Trollope-Waugh-Greene and other Christian writers. HUmans depicted as angelic having elements of the divine in them but Caris in the novel admits she's no saint. Follett once wrote novel Eye of the Needle-hard for rich man to enter kingdom of heaven. Sequel to Pillars of the Earth.
on November 11, 2014
Ahh, Mr Follet, you've dazzled us again.
Once again we are transported to the medieval England, but rather than a cathedral, we are building a bridge. Granted, the building of the bridge was less of a focal point than the cathedral in Pillars, but I actually found that to be a good point.
This novel is a typically entry in Follet-land. While I enjoyed it better than Pillars as it wasn't so damn depressing, there is still that melodramatic flair in which the good guys unduly suffer while the bad guys triumph. That's what you get when you read Follet though, so it would be unfair for me to dock points; but it does warrant a mention.
Follet's best skill, as once again evidenced in this novel, is his use of a mysterious scene at the beginning of the novel that squeezes itself in between the sentences for the rest of the story. As the novel unfolds, and eventually ends (insert sad face here), Follet ties it all together.
Ken, the rumor is that you are going to write a 3rd Kingsbridge novel and you can bet that I will be first in line to snap up a copy. Thanks for the fun adventure in a unique period that no one else ever seems to conquer (they are either too historical with not enough drama, or they are just one big action scene set in the past). Once again you weave well and it's a delight to endure!