Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (5/5).

23 Dec

This is one of those books that everyone who likes historical fiction seems to have read. My mom is a huge Ken Follett fan and I have several friends who adore his novels. So I figured I had to read it, right? Easier said than done because this is one heck of a novel. I did the audiobook and it was 32 disks. Yeah, that’s a bit long. And a bit of a struggle to get a hold of because the person before me in the queue had it for two months longer than they were allotted so I had to use my reciprocal membership at another library to get a copy. But it was all so worth it!

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Summary from Goodreads:

The spellbinding epic set in twelfth-century England, The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the lives entwined in the building of the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known—and a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, and brother against brother.

I find it funny that the summary is so brief because it would be near impossible to put this novel into a paragraph. It’s too vast and intricate for that. To summarize, it’s about building a cathedral. But really, it’s about power and family and how far a person will go for love. I was amazed at how the book started with a high intensity and was able to keep it throughout the whole story. There was no low point in the book; it was ‘go’ from the beginning.

It was cool to see historical figures inserted into the story. The only downside to knowing Thomas Beckett was based on the historical figure was that I knew how he was going to die. At the same time, it was cool to see the characters set up next to these historical figures. It made them seem even more real. The characters Follett created were able to jump off the page. Each was very unique and motivated in different ways and is a real tribute to Follett’s ability to write.

Aliena was easily my favorite character. She was so strong and ahead of her time that it was really inspiring to see her in action. I was always cheering for her and when she was sad or upset, I found myself sad or upset. When William raped her, I felt violated. When Jack ignored her, I felt her rage. It was great to see her finally rewarded after such a hard life

I think Aliena was my favorite because I could relate to her in some ways. Between my husband and me, I take care of the business side of life. I balance the checkbook, pay the bills, and let him know when we can afford to splurge on new things or replace something that’s broken and when we’re going to invest. I have the business sense that Aliena does (or at least I think I do!) and I could relate to her as a woman trying to make financial plans. Though I’m glad that I don’t have the social pressure that Aliena had to face in order to do it.

I absolutely LOVED the ending of this book. The way Follett used the first line again at the end to bring the entire story full circle had me cheering in my car. He did a wonderful job of it. I was suspecting that William would be hung to bring everything back around, but I never have good book guesses so when it was right, I was ecstatic. Woo!

Ken Follett Image via the author's website

Ken Follett
Image via the author’s website

Tom Builder was one of my least-favorite characters and the parts of the book where he would make decisions that protected Alfred were my least favorite parts of the story. I would get frustrated listening to these parts and I was with Ellen in her frustration. Alfred ultimately proved to be the terrible person he was suspected of being and I’m almost glad of that. I wish Tom had taken the initiative to correct him while he was young.

I listed to the audiobook narrated by John Lee and he did a fantastic job. The characters had their own speech patterns and accents and I was thoroughly entertained the entire time. I highly recommend this narrator.

I think the whole book can be about so many things,but the main message I took away was one of perseverance and determination. Most of the characters in the book faced a challenge that at first they couldn’t overcome. There’s the obvious struggle of Phillip and the cathedral, but there’s also Aliena and Jack’s marriage, William’s ransacking of Kingsbridge, and Jack’s search for information about his father. It all took time but the characters had to persevere and keep trying to find success.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think it’s amazing that this book was able to keep my rapt attention for 41 hours of rush hour commutes and library runs. I was always well aware of what was happening and always wanted to get back to the story. I think this speaks volumes to Follett’s pacing, which is something I struggle with. There was always a conflict inside the major conflict and always progress toward resolution. This is a work of art, framed in paper. I’m so glad I read it.

There’s no doubt on the rating here: a full Five out of Five stars. Absolutely spectacular.

Are you looking for another book to read? My ‘Read Along With Me #3’ is starting in January and we’ll be reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Send me an email if you want to join the on-line book club and join us!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Ken Follett: The Pillars of the Earth (review) | The Literary Bunny
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett | Lois Weisberg Book Reviews


3 Responses to “Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (5/5).”

  1. jenspenden December 23, 2014 at 12:46 PM #

    I also loved this book and completely agree with your review. I just finished the second book in Ken Follett’s Century trilogy, and yet again, it amazes me how he can make such a loooong, intricate story 100% entertaining and addicting. I’ve definitely learned a lot from him from a writer’s perspective. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam December 23, 2014 at 1:43 PM #

      Great to hear that the sequel is just as good! I yhink Follett is a great storyteller and a wonderful role model for an aspiring writer.


  2. blackmutts January 5, 2015 at 11:47 AM #

    I’ve seen him speak in person twice now and really, really enjoyed it. (Hence, going to the second talk. If he comes to New York again, I’ll probably also try to make it for a third go!) He comes across as both informed and amiable… and both times has managed to bring up James Bond, despite the books he was featuring not being one of his spy novels.

    In one of the talks, he said he keeps an excel spreadsheet of all the characters in his stories, with relevant facts, to make sure he keeps everyone straight. He also said that he tries very hard, when using actual historical characters, to keep all of their dialogue as close to their real-life quotes as is feasible.

    I’ve been putting off reading any of his books yet… I’ve been in love with the Middle Ages since I was a kid, so I have to start with this one, and even though my wife says that his stuff reads really fast (no matter how long it is!), it’s still an intimidating mass of pages to take on!


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