Tag Archives: Kingsbridge

Book Review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett (4/5)

5 Nov

I was so excited when I heard that there was going to be a third Kingsbridge book. I was a huge fan of the first two and I was excited to see what Follett would do to bring the town into the 1500s. This wasn’t my favorite book in the trilogy but I can’t say I disliked the book.

Cover image via Goodreads

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

Other books by Follett reviewed on this blog:

Pillars of the Earth (Kingsbridge #1)
World Without End (Kingsbridge #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love.

Ned Willard wants nothing more than to marry Margery Fitzgerald. But when the lovers find themselves on opposing sides of the religious conflict dividing the country, Ned goes to work for Princess Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, all Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch sets up the country’s first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions, and invasion plans. Over a turbulent half-century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. Elizabeth clings to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents.

The real enemies, then as now, are not the rival religions. The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else—no matter what the cost.

I came into this book with unreasonably high expectations. I adored the first two books in this series and they blew me away. The character development was great, the arc was amazing, and the setting took on a life of its own. I adored everything about them. So I think it was inevitable that this book would fall a bit flat. Follett moved away from Kingsbridge too much in this book. The familiar setting of the town and the cathedral there was abandoned, only playing guest appearances. Politics, which had always had a small part, became central in this book. The relationships between Kingsbridge citizens were secondary to the lives of the nobility and powerful in England, France, and Spain. This book was far too overreaching in its scope and there’s no wonder it stretched as long as it did.

Yet again, Follett created amazing characters. Ned Willard is an honorable and wonderful man and it’s no wonder Margery loves him. The villains in this book are equally believable and driven by their own sense of duty and devotion. I found them all true to their time as well. Education wasn’t common and many of these characters knew only what they learned from their parents and church. Few people made radical decisions.

Ned was easy to like and a great lead character. I enjoyed following him as the followed Queen Elizabeth and learned about international politics. He was fair and smart, though not so ahead of his time as to be unbelievable. He also wasn’t radicalized to either side of international politics or religion like so many of the characters were. He was patient and in a 900-page novel, that kept him interesting.

I found Margery very relatable. She holds her religious convictions close but she doubts what she’s taught about others who are different from her. She’s a very modern woman for someone of her time. She is able to think independently and even though men rule over her, she has a strong spirit. I liked how fiercely she loved her family, it made me admire her, even if I didn’t agree with her.

Ken Follett
Image via the author’s website

Sylvie’s story was my favorite. I knew, from what I know about Follett books, that she would die eventually, but I still loved her (Follett’s lovers always end up together). Her bravery was admirable and I thought the way Pierre tricked her was one of the worst things I’d ever heard of. She and her mother had a great relationship which reminded me of my mother.

The end of the book really frustrated me. I felt like Follett kept it going just long enough to weave in another important historical event that had nothing to do with the characters’ development and I wish it had been cut. I won’t give away too much more here, but it was obvious to anyone who knows that part of history what was going to happen and I could have dealt with one fewer chapter.

My audiobook was narrated by John Lee. I loved the narration he did and I think he served Follett well. His female voices weren’t offensively high or weak, which is often a fault of narrators in my opinion. He used accents well which would have been quite the challenge with the wide origins of these characters. They were never distracting but helped me know who was talking and remember a character’s origin.

Ned’s love is tested in this book. He loves Margery, his mother Alice, Sylvie, and Queen Elizabeth. At different times, these women pull his attention in different directions and away from the others and tries him. The book talks about conflicting loyalties in many senses. Religion and love, country and ruler. I think Ned made the right choices at the times he needed to, but it was never easy and far from simple. That’s the best we can hope for.

Writer’s Takeaway: Writing historical fiction can be overwhelming. You lose control over some of the pacing of a book when history dictates how things happened. I think Follett let history guide this book too much. There were elements of it, such as Queen Mary, that had nothing to do with the main plot. It added length, but no depth. The story has completely moved away from Kingsbridge and I honestly miss it. History made the cathedral less important which I find quite sad.

This book is amazingly written and I think I would have enjoyed it more as a stand-alone novel instead of anticipating stories from Kingsbridge Cathedral. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1500s time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
A Column of Fire- Ken Follett | thebookfeed
Review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett | Diary of a Bookfiend

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