The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (1989)

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

                Sometimes I find it difficult to write reviews about books that I really enjoyed reading. How can I convince anyone that this book is really as good as I think it is? It’s an impossible task and yet I am going to try because this book deserves to be read. It deserves to be enjoyed. I started reading this book simply because of word of mouth. I have heard great things about this book. Someone even mentioned it to my husband and I figured I would give it a shot as part of this year’s theme to read a book from every year that I have been alive. This book is my “1989” but seriously it is a behemoth of a novel with close to 1000 pages and it’s about the building of a cathedral. In my mind I was thinking this would be as interesting as watching paint dry. I was wrong.
                Set in the 12th century and spanning over three decades this historical fiction starts with the hanging of a man and the curse the woman he loves places on the town. We then jump ten years and meet Tom Builder, a mason who is currently working on the home of a young William who is soon to be wed. Tom dreams of building a cathedral. It is the key to his family’s security, riches and it would be an incredible feat. That dream is shattered when William orders Tom to stop working on the home because his proposal has been rejected by Aleina, the Earl’s daughter. This would be the beginning of Tom and his family’s wandering and poverty. They would eventually end up at the Kingsbridge Priory, the place where the young man was hung a decade earlier and where now a new prior, Phillip is leading the monks. Would this be the place where Tom could build his cathedral? If only things were ever that simple.
                That is about the only way I can describe this plot. All of the characters mentioned in my blurb becomes essential to the plot as do many more. The plot was so intricately detailed that I would need to draw a map to lay out how everything is connected and honestly I don’t want to give any spoilers. I do however want to praise Follett for his storytelling abilities. For this plot to be as wide ranging as it was all of his characters are extremely well developed. I hated some of these characters and grew emotionally attached to others. I believed in their decision making process and more so than anything they felt real. So many different character beautifully brought to life on the page. The world building was just as well done. I felt like I was looking at the lives of peasants, serfs, monks, and nobility. I felt like this was really what life could have been like. Whenever I have anxiety over character’s well-being I know the author has done a great job in making his environment feel real.
                I know you’re wondering how much action this story could possibly have. You’re wondering how this plot moves forward. It’s just the building of the cathedral! But the amount of scheming and dealing that went on behind the scenes. The plotting and the trickery and the heartbreak! Oh my! These characters were in many instances out for blood because of greed, vengeance, jealousy and power. The motivations of these characters was something to behold. Follett mastered what I will call the art of slow suspense. Events would happen in this story, you’d get your hopes up and the walls would come tumbling down (that literally happened in this book). The characters never felt safe. You were constantly waiting for the next thing to happen and when it did it was something totally unexpected and usually heartbreaking.

                The Pillars of the Earth is an epic historical fiction novel that looks at human nature and all of its flaws. It takes the humble builder and transforms this into that of the plight of man. I was taken back by how much I enjoyed this novel. I am easily giving this 4.5 out of 5 stars. If it hadn’t gotten repetitive at times it would have received a solid 5 stars. Such a great read. Definitely recommended by me. 


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