23 June 2010

World Without End

By Ken Follett
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Group
First printing, October 2007

There is nothing like a good saga to keep a reader riveted to the story to the very end. At just over a thousand pages the ending to this novel was a long time coming, but every word brings you further and further absorbed into the world of the four main characters - Caris, Merthin, Gwenda, and Ralph.

The book jacket sets up the story rather nicely:

"On the day after Halloween, in the year 1327, four children slip away from the cathedral city of Kingsbridge. They are a thief, a bully, a boy genius, and a girl who wants to be a doctor. In the forest they see two men killed."

World Without End does not pick up where Pillars of the Earth finished. It is now two hundred years later and, while the central characters have changed, the setting is still fictional Kingsbridge, England, where nuns and monks and townspeople vie for control of the city and all that happens in it.

As in Pillars, Follett spends a great deal of time explaining medieval architecture, from bridges, to churches, to hospitals. It's extremely interesting and the story wouldn't be complete without it; it is an insight into how various guilds came into being and to how the style of architecture changed over time and from one country to the next.

The real story, however, lies with the characters - Caris, who has always wanted to be a doctor; brothers Merthin and Ralph, one who wants to become a knight and one who actually becomes one; poor Gwenda who can never seem to fight her way out of poverty; and the nuns and monks of Kingsbridge. There are wars, plagues, greed, revenge, and religious in-fighting, and through it all a city grows, lovers meet and part, lives begin and end.

As I said, this novel is a saga. Be prepared to spend some time reading it, then be prepared to miss it when it's done.

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