Saturday, January 12, 2013

World Without End, by Ken Follett

World Without End, by Ken Follett

I quite liked The Pillars of the Earth but it still took me over four years to pick up the sequel, World Without End. Big mistake; I liked it even more than the first! This isn't a direct sequel—it is set two centuries later and shares a setting rather than the more typical characters. Other things the two tomes share are a plot (political intrigue contrasted with a revolution in building and a mix of noble and low-born people) and a rich historical backdrop where fiction and reality mix; here, the reign of Edward III and the bubonic plague is the stage against which the novel plays out.

In The Pillars of the Earth Follett poured his voluminous research into page after page of ancillary description, often resulting in extended passages only tangentially related to the plot. World Without End is equally in depth, but the author does a much better job of staying on point and keeping his knowledge flowing with the surrounding story. Besides an excellent description of 14th century warfare, the role of women in society in this era is made horrifyingly clear. A mentally-ill woman is publicly stoned, another is traded into prostitution by her father for a cow, still another trades her body for political favors which are then reneged upon, and many other are raped or forced into unhappy marriages. While the masses—men and women—all view these acts as simply a part of life and that a woman's place is to be subservient to man, the antagonists all look on this with a modern disdain. Compare this with the many monks, bishops, and friars that play integral parts of the play—with only a very few exceptions all these men are of low moral and ethical character and yet are looked upon with high regard by the community. An interesting juxtaposition to say the least.

As depressing as that is, I did enjoy the novel. Solid storytelling and interesting plot twists keep the pages (all 1200+ in my copy!) turning quickly. The sex is much more graphic than I remember in the original and the violence is often excessive, but the look into life in the late medieval ages is fascinating. World Without End is a great book for airline trips, waiting rooms, or rainy Saturday afternoons.

First Sentence:
Gwenda was eight years old, but she was not afraid of the dark.

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