Book Review: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Image resultBefore the publication of this novel, Follett was known for writing thrillers not sagas. However, with this epic novel, Follett does not disappoint.

Set in the Middle Ages, we are drawn into the story of a Gothic cathedral: why it was built, who built it, the lives the cathedral changed. The story is set in Kingsbridge, England and begins in the year 1123 with a hanging, an event often held in the market place to serve as a warning to thieves and social miscreants. The prophecy pronounced by the witch at the end of the prologue is woven throughout the saga.

Interior of a Gothic Cathedral
Interior of a Gothic Cathedral (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this epic novel, we meet a range of characters that are impacted by the building of a church dedicated to God: Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge who is instrumental in building the cathedral; Tom, the builder who has dreamed all of his life of building a cathedral; Alfred and Martha, the children of Tom Builder and his wife Agnes; Jack and his mother Ellen, the witch who curses the men who are instrumental in the death of her lover; Waleran, an ambitious and corrupt man who desires the power of those high up in the church hierarchy; Lord and Lady Hamleigh, both who desire much more than what they have; William, a man who fights to become more than what he was born to; Aliena and Richard, children whose fortunes change with the arrest of their father. We read how these characters’ lives are intertwined by love, hate, desire, and ambition.

English: Gothic cathedral of Châlons-en-Champagne
Gothic cathedral of Châlons-en-Champagne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spanning over 51 years, Pillars of the Earth is an epic tale that I savoured with every page. I was angry at the injustices experienced by the characters; and rejoiced when they overcame obstacles. I held my breath at critical parts; and signed a breath of relief when a danger was avoided. Follett gives us an insight into the life of people living during this era with rich descriptions of the setting and a vivid narrative filled with the hardships and victories of those who lived in a time gone by. The characters that fill the pages are realistic with personality traits that span the centuries. As in modern life, we are introduced to characters who are aggressive, those who are timid, those who struggle to achieve their dreams.

I could not put this book down and took every opportunity I could to read it (I spent most of Mother’s Day engrossed in this story). I was totally captivated by the characters, the history, and the plot. Follett had converted me to his writing with his epic saga Fall of Giants (read my review here), and reading this novel did not cause me to change my mind. If you do not have time to read this 972 page fiction narrative, then consider watching the TV series by the same name. It is a production that faithfully follows Follett’s original storyline, is well-acted, and is set within a realistic Medieval England. Have a look at the trailer and see for yourself:

I now look forward to reading the sequel to this novel: World without End.

Will you attempt to read this saga? Or will you enjoy Pillars of the Earth on your television screen?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

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26 thoughts on “Book Review: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

  1. Great review hon and I would watch the movie if I liked this type of epics. Nowadays I use a book to fall asleep. LOL! Hubby would love it though. I am more into sci-fi and horrors like Stephen King. 🙂 Stunning post. 🙂
    *hugs*

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    1. I hope you find the time – maybe during the long summer days lazing in the sun? I love that he created a story with a Gothic cathedral as the central pivot.

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    1. If you love long stories that take you days to read, then this is the one for you. The plot is intricately woven with many characters and it is a pleasure to read.

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  2. Others have spoken about how great these books are. I do look forward to reading them one day….perhaps soon? You do know of that stack of books by my bedstand. I don’t think I’ll be putting this one quite at the bottom, though!

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    1. The sequel I have put on the top of my stack – I will get to it when I have finished reading my current one. I am lucky – I am able to use travelling time to read, and the odd free period that I have in my work 🙂

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  3. When I read the title of this, I thought, I don’t think I will be interested, but you have my interest now, I might have to look into it more. Thanks Colline, you write a good book review.

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  4. I read this in highschool and enjoyed it then. Last summer, I watched the whole series on Netflix on demand and enjoyed it again. Most of the time I find the book to be better than the movie, but in this case I enjoyed them both.

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    1. I agree with you – both are equally enjoyable. I saw the film version first and kept expecting the story to be different when I read the text. I find it exciting that the film producers were so loyal to the text written by the author – shows that a good story need not be changed.

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  5. Great book, well written fictional but balanced against life in the middle ages. just finish reading the sequel to Pillars of the Earth: World without End. truly epic novel.

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