October 22, 2011
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Pillars takes place during the time of the War of Succession, when King Henry has died and his nephew Stephen has usurped the throne from Henry's daughter Maud. But the war is just a background to this story. This story is more about the priory of Kingsbridge and its quest to build a cathedral. Tom Builder, a man who has recently lost his wife and is looking for work, happens to be there the day the old church burns to the ground and is hired by Prior Phillip to build a new cathedral. But they are dogged every step of the way by a greedy Bishop, a crazy violent Lord and other misfortunes that seem to pop up over the years. Tom has two sons as well, Alfred, his natural son, and Jack, his stepson. The two have a combative relationship and their main fight is over Aliena, a local merchant whom both wants. This adds yet another problem to the work of the cathedral as both are masons who can be easily distracted. The cathedral has its ups and downs of building and it seems that it will never be finished.
This book has some great characters. You really hate the bad guys and you really cheer on the good guys. I think my favorite character was probably Prior Phillip. He didn't always do the best thing but he tried to do the right thing by everyone. He just had a lovable air about him. I also liked Tom Builder. He too wasn't perfect but was just an all around good guy. William Hamleigh was probably the character I liked the least, but that's ok, he made a terrific bad guy and you couldn't help but hate him. The same applies to Bishop Waleran. There were numerous characters though of course and they were all important to the story; and they all fit in the story as well.
You would think that the building of a church would be a boring story plot but Follett manages to make it interesting by incorporating all the different people and their lives into the book. The church becomes representative of their struggles instead of the main focus. And it works. Sure the book is lengthy and can get a bit slowed down at times, but it actually is pretty interesting throughout most of it. And don't think because its about a church that there is nothing offensive or tame about this book. There is descriptive sex scenes, violence, and other bits that may be too much for the more sensitive readers. But I thought it was all well done.
A very interesting book, I really enjoyed it. I know this is the only one of this type that Follett has done, but I may have to check out some of his other works.
The Pillars of the Earth