I am rereading the Pillars of the Earth series by Ken Follett in preparation for the fifth book of the series. The series starts before the Norman Invasion of England and sweeps through the Industrial Revolution. Each book takes place at the same location, a place where there was a ferry. The books each look at three families, a villain, a family with a woman, and a family with a man. They are romances, but the happy ending takes years to materialize. The books are fascinating, and I feel the characters are real people while I am reading them. The first book in the series is actually the fourth book published, but you want to read the books in the order I am discussing them.
In these turbulent times, three characters find their lives intertwined. A young boatbuilder's life is turned upside down when his home is raided by Vikings, forcing him and his family to move and start their lives anew in a small hamlet where he does not fit in. . . . A Norman noblewoman marries for love, following her husband across the sea to a new land, but the customs of her husband's homeland are shockingly different, and it soon becomes clear to her that a single misstep could be catastrophic. . . . A monk dreams of transforming his humble abbey into a center of learning that will be admired throughout Europe. And each in turn comes into dangerous conflict with a clever and ruthless bishop who will do anything to increase his wealth and power.
The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, a devout and resourceful monk driven to build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has known . . . of Tom, the mason who becomes his architect—a man divided in his soul . . . of the beautiful, elusive Lady Aliena, haunted by a secret shame . . . and of a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state and brother against brother.
World Without End takes place in the same town of Kingsbridge, two centuries after the townspeople finished building the exquisite Gothic cathedral that was at the heart of The Pillars of the Earth. The cathedral and the priory are again at the center of a web of love and hate, greed and pride, ambition and revenge, but this sequel stands on its own. This time the men and women of an extraordinary cast of characters find themselves at a crossroads of new ideas—about medicine, commerce, architecture, and justice. In a world where proponents of the old ways fiercely battle those with progressive minds, the intrigue and tension quickly reach a boiling point against the devastating backdrop of the greatest natural disaster ever to strike the human race—the Black Death.
In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love.
Ned Willard wants nothing more than to marry Margery Fitzgerald. But when the lovers find themselves on opposing sides of the religious conflict dividing the country, Ned goes to work for Princess Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, all Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch sets up the country’s first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions, and invasion plans. Over a turbulent half century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. Elizabeth clings to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents.
The real enemies, then as now, are not the rival religions. The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else—no matter what the cost.
The Spinning Jenny was invented in 1770, and with that, a new era of manufacturing and industry changed lives everywhere within a generation. A world filled with unrest wrestles for control over this new world order: A mother’s husband is killed in a work accident due to negligence; a young woman fights to fund her school for impoverished children; a well-intentioned young man unexpectedly inherits a failing business; one man ruthlessly protects his wealth no matter the cost, all the while war cries are heard from France, as Napoleon sets forth a violent master plan to become emperor of the world. As institutions are challenged and toppled in unprecedented fashion, ripples of change ricochet through our characters’ lives as they are left to reckon with the future and a world they must rebuild from the ashes of war.