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World Without End    by Ken Follett Amazon.com order for
World Without End
by Ken Follett
Order:  USA  Can
Dutton, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Fans of Ken Follett most often point to Eye of the Needle and The Man from St. Petersburg, along with a half dozen other espionage thrillers as representative of the prolific author's work. With a dozen and a half best-selling novels to his credit over the past several decades, Follett has certainly established himself as a well-respected and successful author.

Not all of Follett's readers, however, are familiar with his monumental historical novel, The Pillars of the Earth, published to critical acclaim nearly twenty years ago. Set in 12th century England, the sweeping epic focused on the building of a cathedral and the many lives it affected. Now - for fans of The Pillars of the Earth - the long wait for another of Follett's sprawling historical sagas is over. World Without End arrives as what its publisher calls 'the most anticipated sequel of the year.'

Beginning in 1327, two centuries after the building of the cathedral in the town of Kingsbridge, World Without End features a vast cast of characters and a labyrinthine plot that spans more than three decades.

Central characters include Brother Godwin (an ambitious monk at the Kingsbridge priory), Gwenda (the bold daughter of an unscrupulous father), Merthin and Ralph (the vastly different sons of Sir Gerald and Lady Maud), Caris (the beautiful daughter of Edmund the Wooler, a young woman who would struggle to resolve the conflict between her sensual and spiritual natures), and Wulfric (the tireless personality who would grow up to become 'the handsomest man Gwenda had ever seen').

These and dozens of other characters live their difficult and adventurous lives in Kingsbridge, a village with a proud past that finds itself now situated in the dynamic center of a rapidly changing society. Secular and sectarian powers collide as faith, politics, and social structures are challenged by reason, doubts, secrets, and passions. Further complicating life in this 14th century intersection of past and future are warfare abroad in France, local social upheavals, and plague in the village that will thoroughly test everyone's strength and endurance.

Love and hate, greed and pride, ambition and revenge are omnipresent in the characters' lives, and throughout the novel's brilliantly written 981 pages, readers will remain spellbound by the author's powerful vision of life in the Middle Ages.

Here, in one magnificent, mesmerizing, and massive volume, is everything readers crave in a historical novel: entertainment, instruction, and satisfaction. Enjoy!

2nd Review by Alex Telander:

There are books that you read, that a few weeks later are barely recollected. Then there are those that change a basic mindset, giving a thrill as you read them and think about how this particular book is making such an impression on you that you're going to remember it for a long part of your life. I don't need to tell you which kind World Without End is. I'm also not going to give a plot summary. I am however going to try to convince you of why you should read this novel in the expectation that it will make the same strong impression on you as it did on me.

While I have never been a fan of the seemingly omnipotent Oprah's Book Club, she has the power to influence a considerable number of Americans to read her recommendations. In January 2008, Oprah nominated Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth for her club. Overnight all kinds of people picked up this lofty paperback tome, set in the Middle Ages, and documenting the building of a giant cathedral with immense, fascinating architectural detail. Since it's one of my favorite books, seeing so many people reading it made me happy. Naturally, once these readers reached the last page of Pillars of the Earth - and assuming they enjoyed it as much as Oprah said they would - they would then turn to World Without End.

Follett's new historical has been labeled the sequel to Pillars of the Earth, which might be misleading as none of the original characters reappear, and World Without End is set in a later period. However it features descendants of the main family in Pillars of the Earth, and previous characters have left their impression, both in the historical record and in the physical form of the cathedral. But World Without End is a deeper and more complex novel than its predecessor.

Don't look for the good guys to always win out, and the bad guys to fail in World Without End because, as in real life, the author does not reward those who do good and punish those who do bad; it's a harsh world that reflects survival of the fittest. You must also remember that this is the fourteenth century, a time of societal divisions from peasant to noble, when class distinction was a defining characteristic of every person. There is much suffering, so that readers cannot help but hope that at some point it must get better for the likeable characters and worse for the hateful ones - this is after all a novel, but don't expect Follett to do anything predictable.

There was a lot going on throughout fourteenth century Europe, and what makes World Without End such an incredible novel is that Follett covers the monumental events in microcosm, focused on a couple of small towns in England. A cooling of temperatures led to the Great Famine, with crop failure and starvation for many peasants. Coupled with this was the Peasant's Revolt against overlords who had oppressed them for so long. A guild system evolved, where anyone wanting to become skilled in a trade would have to be invited to become a member. There was the Black Death, a horrific plague that wiped out half the population of Europe. The papacy moved from Rome to Avignon, France, which created a fission in the Christian faith. Finally there was the seemingly neverending Hundred Years War.

Follett skillfully interweaves these events into his novel - as happenings occurring far away that have little effect on the citizens of his towns much as the Iraq War is perceived by Americans today. At least this seems the case at first, but then these far off catastrophes ripple into play, as men head off to war, craftsmen have to fight to get into guilds, peasants suffer and starve, the church is questioned, and finally with the arrival of the plague, peoples' lives and the towns are changed forever.

World Without End takes readers on a journey through the fourteenth century, not via a history lesson but rather by observing the complex lives of ordinary townspeople of varying classes - their loves and losses, hopes and dreams, despair and suffering. It's a moving - some might even say depressing - book, but the fourteenth century was a tumultuous time to say the least. And when you get to the last page, you'll wish for more story, more characters - you'll wish to remember this remarkable novel for a long time.

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