“We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral.”
Who would have thought an almost-1000 page tome about the building of a cathedral would capture the imagination of so many readers (and viewers, with the subsequent TV adaptation)? And yet, 1989’s The Pillars of the Earth did just that, and spawned a sequel, 2007’s World Without End.
For the third part in the trilogy, author Ken Follett jumps forward half a century or so. We’re still in Kingsbridge, but now in a time of religious upheaval. The Protestant faith has grown, unhappy with the hypocrisy often seen in the Catholic leadership. Henry VIII’s announcement of himself, not the Pope, as head of the church leaves England divided. His successors are his two daughters: first the Catholic Mary Tudor – known as Bloody Mary for the number of Protestants she has executed – and then Protestant Elizabeth, who’d much rather rule over a kingdom of tolerance.
Against this background, we follow Ned Willard and a cast of characters, from Kingsbridge to France, the Netherland, and even the Caribbean. Religious upheaval throughout Europe is the cause of dramas huge and small, and this book doesn’t shy away from the gory details.
Perhaps because of the change in time period, or an over-familiarity with the era in popular culture these days, I didn’t find this book as enthralling as the first or even second in the series. In fact, the opening chapter was enough to almost have me hand the book back to the library without reading any more: “Oh great,” I thought, “another ‘woman married against her will’ history. Urgh!”
I decided to give it one more go, and slowly picked my way through the rest. The writing remains strong, the dramas told well – let’s face it, holding attention for 750 (or over 900, depending on binding!) pages is no mean feat! – but still, hmm. While it didn’t work quite as well for me as the first book, but it was a nice change of pace from my more usual sci-fi and fantasy reads.
Hardback: 751 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: Kingsbridge book 3
Read from 6th April – 5th May 2018
My rating: 7/10