This is the follow-up to Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, which I read about two years ago. It takes place about 200 years after Pillars so I don’t think it deserves to be termed a sequel. You certainly don’t need to read the first one before this one. But they are similar and the first one adds some context. They are both 1,000 page epic period-pieces that I found virtually impossible to put down.
I’m telling you man, if you love reading just for the pure entertainment value of a good story, you have to grab these books. They’re just great stories that keep you engaged no matter what’s going on around you. Sure, I predicted a few things and I’m not calling it literature. But there are so many twists and turns that even if you get something right, it doesn’t ruin the book because you couldn’t have plotted the route Follett took.
I may start ranting here, but I especially noticed the greatness of Follett’s story because I finished this book on the same weekend that I saw Avatar. Avatar was a great movie and by all accounts it will break plenty of box office records over the next few months. I’ve heard critics say it will do so because it combines “visually stunning” cinema techniques with a great story.
I disagree somewhat, although I did like the movie a lot. I just don’t think the story is that great.
Side-by-side with this book, Avatar looks kind of formulaic. I know, there’s only so much story you can tell in a three hour movie; I get that. But don’t be fooled when Cameron goes on during his interviews about how he’s had this story in his mind for years. It’s mostly a war story where the side you’re rooting for is seriously undermanned, combined with a love story. Kind of like Dances With Wolves meets She’s All That. As I said, I loved the movie, but Cameron is a better movie maker than a story teller. I thought Terminator was better and a more original story.
Now this Follett book, that’s storytelling. Like Pillars, there are five protagonists who’s stories intertwine with each other along with that of the cathedral. And again the Catholic church figures prominently with the historical backdrop being reign of King Edward III and the Black Death. But it’s slightly different than Pillars in that one of the five protagonists, Caris, stands out more prominently than the rest of the characters. She, in my view, could probably be termed the hero of this book.
Caris is inquisitive and in a constant battle with the role of women in 14th Century England. She wants to be a doctor but only priests and and monks can be so. She still gets belittled by the priests even after she becomes well-known across England for devising innovative techniques to deal with the Black Death. It may sound like Follett is going a little Jane Austen with this story line (power to the women!), but that’s an improper conclusion. I’ll let you read it to understand why I say that.
It’s a very enjoyable read. The fastest 1,000 pages in fiction!