The Pillars of the Earth

Book review by Deane Barker tags: fiction

This is an epic historical novel. It covers about 50 years in the life of a 12th century English town called Kingsbridge. It’s not fantasy – there’s no magic, no dragons, etc. The book represents actual life in the Middle Ages.

The central conflict is the building of a cathedral in Kingsbridge. There’s an ensemble cast, but the main character would probably be Prior Philip, who manages the monastery. Surrounding him are Aliena, the daughter of a late Earl; Tom the Builder, an itinerant stonemason with a family; and William Hamleigh, a powerful sexual sadist bent on revenge.

This is a long book, and the plot plays out over generations. People are born, live, age, and die all within the confines of its page. You really come to know the characters and the town itself.

Ken Follett was mainly known for writing thrillers. This was his first historical novel. I enjoyed his writing style. It’s straightforward and matter-of-fact, without being boring.

Along the way, I learned quite a bit about English history. The plot is set against the (real-life) conflict for the throne known as The Anarchy. In fact, the sinking of the White Ship is a plot point, as is the killing of Thomas Becket. All the characters become embroiled in real-world events, to some extent.

I enjoyed picking up the book every day. It’s one long conflict, but there are multiple subconflicts and resolutions along the way. It almost plays out like a long-running soap opera.

This novel proved so popular that Follett started a whole series – The Kingsbridge Series.

Book Info

Ken Follett

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