I am posting for Caroline Clemmons today.
I am writing about the trilogy of books Ken Follett started in 1989 with PILLARS OF THE EARTH. The other books in the trilogy are WORLD WITHOUT END and PILLAR OF FIRE. Recently, in September of 2020, the prequel THE EVENING AND THE MORNING came out.
Each of these books follows three families in Kingsbridge, England across years and together, over five hundred years of history. Follett follows a hero and heroine for each book against a backdrop of medieval history and real events that occur. I enjoyed the history as much as I did following the actors in that history.
Each of Follett's novels is a stand-alone book. That said, it is much better to read them in chronological order. These books are not small. Each of them has over 700 pages. Don't let that scare you off. These books read very quickly and once you enter Follett's world, you will read right through the series before you know it.
Start with THE EVENING AND THE MORNING. It begins in 997 C.E. by following a young shipbuilder, burned out by Vikings and forced to start over elsewhere, a Norman noblewoman who manages to marry for love but who finds the customs of her husband's English people brutish, and a young monk who wants to make his monastery an admired center of learning. The villain is an evil and ruthless bishop who will do anything to increase his wealth and power. It follows these people right up to where PILLARS OF THE EARTH starts.
PILLARS OF THE EARTH starts in the Twelfth century with Phillip, a prior who wants to build a grand cathedral in Kingsbridge, Tom, the mason who builds the cathedral, and Lady Aliena, who Tom loves but cannot have. They live in a time where there is a struggle that will turn church against state and brother against brother.
WORLD WITHOUT END starts two hundred years after PILLARS OF THE EARTH ends. The cathedral is still the center of the town. However, new ideas were coming into Kingsbridge that the present power structure thinks are dangerous. Because they are frightened, the elders fight to the last stand against the new ideas and the people who have them. The story is told through the same three families and the forces arrayed against them. The rivalries are occurring against the backdrop of the Plague.
Finally, COLUMN OF FIRE starts in 1558. The young Queen Elizabeth is in trouble because she is protestant and the world is Catholic. Ned wants to marry Margery, but the religious issue keeps that from happening. Ned goes to work for Queen Elizabeth in the secret service she has started to keep herself and her country safe. Those who value tolerance and compromise battle against those who want to force everyone to believe what they believe.
Taken together, this series is wonderful. The heroes and heroines are fleshed out, real people. Everyone else in these books is as well. Follett word-paints this world beautifully. Enjoy!