My mom has always been a fan of Follett’s and I read his first book, The Pillars of the Earth, and loved it. I put this second book on my TBR but took my sweet time getting to it because I knew it would be long and it would take me a long time to get through it. It was a real struggle. I listened to it on eaudio and lost the hold, having to wait almost three months before I got it back and still did not finish it. I got through the last 8 hours with a book-on-CD edition that was equivalent to a passenger in my car for about a month. Per Goodreads, it took me over five months to read this book. And I loved every minutes of it!
Cover image via Goodreads
World Without End by Ken Follett (The Pillars of the Earth #2)
Other books by Ken Follett reviewed on this blog:
Pillars of the Earth (5/5)
Summary from Goodreads:
World Without End takes place in the same town of Kingsbridge, two centuries after the townspeople finished building the exquisite Gothic cathedral that was at the heart of The Pillars of the Earth. The cathedral and the priory are again at the center of a web of love and hate, greed and pride, ambition and revenge, but this sequel stands on its own. This time the men and women of an extraordinary cast of characters find themselves at a crossroad of new ideas— about medicine, commerce, architecture, and justice. In a world where proponents of the old ways fiercely battle those with progressive minds, the intrigue and tension quickly reach a boiling point against the devastating backdrop of the greatest natural disaster ever to strike the human race—the Black Death.
I was a little skeptical that this book wouldn’t live up to the first one but man, was I worried about nothing. This book was incredible from the beginning and I loved every second of it. I cared about every character (maybe Ralph not so much) and I adored getting to know them and watching them grow up during the book. The length was daunting but I knew it also meant getting rich characters and a deep plot.
I loved the variety of characters Follett created. It was fun to have two clever young people as the main characters in the story. Watching them grow up and become a man and a woman in charge of their town was rewarding. But Follett has other characters who aren’t as smart and who balanced Merthin and Caris well. Gwenda and Wulfric seem like more grounded examples of people from the time and who made the book seem grounded in history despite Merthin and Caris feeling like people ahead of their time. Ralph helped root the story in a time when military prowess could change a man from an outlaw to an Earl. He was just the right amount of evil for this book.
It was easy to love Caris. She is very modern in how practical she is and how self-sufficient she can be. She loves Merthin, but there are things she finds more important than him and will put him aside to deal with. Her dedication to the hospital is commendable and her logic in a time of crisis makes her stand out. She was saying things that I, as a modern reader, wanted to say. Listening to other medical professionals made her smart, but figuring out what worked and what didn’t was where she excelled. It was like seeing how medical advancements were possible. She was really inspiring.
I related to Caris best. While Gwenda was a good character, she had a lot of terrible things happen to her that I had trouble relating to. Merthin was more of an engineering mind than I am and I’d hate to think I’m anything like Ralph. Caris was almost single-minded in her focus and I know that’s something I do from time to time. Her dedication to something reminded me of myself and how I’ll sometimes ignore my family or other obligations when I have something I’m focusing on.
Image via the author’s website
The Black Death was a great antagonist in this book. Fighting against Philemon, Godwyn, and Ralph was bad, but the Black Death was the best fight in the book. It seemed almost convenient that our main characters were all immune to the disease and I almost wish at least one of them had died of it because it would have been a bit more believable. The fear Kingsbridge expressed at the third outbreak was very justified and I believed that they were willing to forgo so much financially for a chance of missing the plague completely.
All the parts of the book I disliked were about Ralph. He was so angry and mean that every time he narrated, I expected something terrible to happen. I started to expect it. What he did to Gwenda, Tillie, and Philippa was terrible and was made worse by how he justified his actions. He was an awful person but Follett gave him motivations that were believable which was the worst part.
John Lee narrated the audiobook and I was excited to hear his voice. He did an incredible job with Pillars and I knew he’d do a great job with this one. I only hope he does the final book as well. His voices for different characters were distinct without being annoying and they fit the characters well. Wulfric, for example, had a slower cadence to his voice which fit with him being a thoughtful person. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another book with ‘Lee’ and ‘Follett’ on the cover!
Follett had a lot to say about love. Caris and Merthin had to wait a long time before they could be husband and wife and even then, it would be interrupted. Caris was a nun for a large part of the book and it seemed she was going to put Merthin off indefinitely so she could pursue the hospital. But in the end, like in Pillars, love finds a way. Gwenda and Wulfric were married for most of the book but Gwenda was always jealous and thought Wulfric could be tempted away. She didn’t fully trust him around other women until the end when she finally realized how dedicated Wulfric was. It was touching to see all the fears her narration had put into my head squashed when she realized his dedication.
Writer’s Takeaway: Follett doesn’t let a plotline drop. Small things that happened along the way would come back into play. The very opening scene with the children and Sir/Brother Thomas in the woods played a crucial role in the end. Comments about what was being built or who was ill would come back and be important later. It’s best not to load a reader down with information that isn’t important to the scene and isn’t necessary later in the book. With a book over 1,000 pages long, Follett had to be sure every sentence mattered and he did.
I adored this book and recommend it very highly. You don’t have to read Pillars to enjoy this book, they could be read separately and be loved. A full Five out of Five stars.
This book fulfills the Pre-1500 time period for my When Are You Reading? Challenge.
Until next time, write on.
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World Without End (Ken Follett 2007) | The Discerning Writer
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