World Without End: A Novel

by Ken Follett

Paperback, 2010



Fiction. Suspense. Thriller. Historical Fiction. HTML: #1 New York Times Bestseller In 1989, Ken Follett astonished the literary world with The Pillars of the Earth, a sweeping epic novel set in twelfth-century England centered on the building of a cathedral and many of the hundreds of lives it affected. World Without End is its equally irresistible sequelâ??set two hundred years after The Pillars of the Earth and three hundred years after the Kingsbridge prequel, The Evening and the Morning. 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 crossroads of new ideasâ??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 raceâ??the Black Death.  Three years in the writing and nearly eighteen years since its predecessor, World Without End is a "well-researched, beautifully detailed portrait of the late Middle Ages" (The Washington Post) that once again shows that Ken Follett is a masterful author writing at the top of his cr… (more)

Library's rating


(3029 ratings; 4)


Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2009)

User reviews

LibraryThing member colleenharker
Like "Pillars of the Earth," I read this one on a family member's recommendation. I enjoyed the first one more. This is just more of the same. Corrupt clergy, fornicating nuns, and on and on... I wouldn't recommend it.
LibraryThing member mudslideslim
The sequel to Pillars of the Earth of course is another trip back in time where every day is a gamble of life and death and the outcome is depending on your wits and ability to survive. The men are men and the priests are devious, I hated to finish the Pillars because it meant I had to leave that
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place, two pages into World without end and I was back, I felt myself breath a sigh of relief, like coming home from a long journey, go there, the characters are so real that I actually missed certain ones when they died. Good luck!
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LibraryThing member msbaba
World Without End by Ken Follett is a monumental work of historical fiction covering the town of Kingsbridge, England, from 1327 to 1361. The history of this fictional town is brought to life through the lives of four main characters: Caris, an independent-minded woman who values her career more
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than her lover; Merthin, a direct descendant of Tom Builder, the Cathedral’s architect, and an architect himself; Ralph, Methin’s psychopathic older brother, who values power and position above all else; and Gwenda, a poor peasant woman with perhaps the keenest brain of them all. We meet them as children, and then follow the events in their lives, big and small, over the course of the next 34 years.

This book is being marketed as a sequel to the to Pillars of the Earth, a book considered by many to be one of the finest works of historical fiction ever written. Pillars has a worldwide fan-base that has been clamoring for a sequel. Now 18 years later, the sequel has arrived. Pillars captured the hearts and minds of historical fiction lovers worldwide because it recreated, with breathtaking authenticity, life during the height of the late Middle Ages. It was set in Kingsbridge during the 12th century, and focused on the building of the town’s cathedral. The four main characters in the sequel, World Without End, are direct descendants of the main characters in Pillars, but the book is set a full 200 years—ten generations—later, making these connections rather superfluous. It is clear that Follett has not created a traditional sequel—one that closely follows the main characters through many generations. Here, Follett obviously chose to focus on the town of Kingsbridge, not the immediate descendants.

Follett gives us Kingsbridge during one of the more interesting and critical periods in the history of Western Europe—the period when the Middle Ages are ending and the Renaissance is beginning. The author shows us how Kingsbridge reacts to the major forces that occurred during this period: the Hundred Years’ War; the weakening death throes of feudalism; and most important of all, the Black Plague pandemic of 1340. The Plague killed more than fifty percent of the population of Europe. Its effect was so enormous that it is perhaps best understood and grasped emotionally through a work of fiction rather than through a work of history.

The Plague changed everything. When it was over, the European world was headed in a new direction. One of the most intriguing effects of the Plague was that it caused a major shift in the balance of power from the clergy toward the mercantile class. All of this is faithfully and lovingly recreated in Follett’s vision of 14th-century Kingsbridge.

On the human level, the novel focuses on the everyday human, political, and economic struggles of Kingsbridge as seen through the lives of the four protagonists. This is a very large novel. At 1111 pages, Follett has amble opportunity to bring not only his four main characters to life, but also a huge supporting caste of townsfolk. Every aspect of the human condition is covered: greed, violence, torture, hatred, lust, love, jealousy, revenge, charity, piety, duplicity, power-mongering…the list is long, and the repetition at times seems endless. I would be remiss if I did not warn you that lusty sex does come up so frequently in this novel that one has to remind oneself that there was little else to do for fun back then. The emphasis on sex did not offend me—actually, it made the reading all that more exciting.

Follett did a lot of careful research before writing this sequel. The book is rich in details about the period’s architectural, mercantile, and feudal practices. The chapters that deal with the Hundred Years’ War give the author ample opportunity to tell us about the technology and art of warfare at that time. If there is a thematic focus in this book, it is demonstrating the shift from a clergy-centered world to a merchant-centered world following the Black Plague. As a result, Follett spend a great deal of time dealing with political and economic developments within the church and the town’s merchants. This is necessary, and here Follett succeeds admirably.

So, World Without End is not really a sequel to Pillars of the Earth, that is, not in the usual sense of the word. Neither book needs the other to be whole. Either can be read without the other, and if both books are read, it really doesn’t matter which one is read first. The better book is clearly Pillars, but World Without End is definitely worth the time, and will reward the reader with a memorable and fascinating fictional adventure.

Being immersed in either novel is an incredible experience—as close as you’ll every get to literary time travel! I loved every moment of it, and know I will return to reread both books again in the future.

According to the New York Times (Oct 25, 2007), Ken Follett has just signed a deal with Dutton to write The Century Trilogy. This work will cover several generations of families from the beginning of the 20th century through the Cold War. The first novel is scheduled for publication in 2010. There was no information given about where these novels will be set. Would Ken Follett dare to set it again in fictional Kingsbridge, some 550 years and 27 generations later? Let’s wait and see!
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LibraryThing member RcCarol
If you’ve read Pillars of the Earth, you’ve read World Without End. Despite the passage of two centuries, the characters are essentially the same, as are the plotlines. Jack is now Merthin, Aliena is now Caris, and William Hamleigh is Ralph Fitzgerald. Merthin and Caris are separated by plot
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contrivances that the reader can be certain will be overcome. As in Pillars of the Earth, the characters are all two-dimensional, drawn with nary a shade of grey. The narrative also misses the cohesion of a Prior Phillip, probably the most interesting character in Pillars. However, some new characters do brighten the pages, such as Caris’s poor friend Gwenda, a desperate, hard-working woman who leaves the family that allowed her to be traded for a cow. I actually found Lady Philippa and Brother Thomas to be among the most interesting characters, possibly because the writer did not focus as much attention to their motives and thoughts. The writer also spent far too much time and detail on the details of bridge-making and cathedral-repairing.

All these complaints said, I couldn’t put the book down. I stayed up ‘til past 3 for two nights until the book was finished. The author does an excellent job of describing Kingsbridge as well as the culture of the middle ages. I also enjoyed reading about the conflicts the warrior class, as exemplified by Ralph, the church, as exemplified by Godfrey, and the merchant class, as exemplified by Caris's faather. Too bad that wasn't more fully developed! World Without End is very much a plot-driven book. So, borrow the book from the library or a friend, and enjoy.
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LibraryThing member Doondeck
Interesting glimpses fo medieval life and early engineering feats. More than you ever wanted to know about the plague. But like everything else in this book, it just keeps coming back. I remember loving Pillars of the Earth, but this book is 1000+ pages of soap opera romance and sex. I thought the
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characters were two dimensional.
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LibraryThing member Clif
World Without End transports the reader into another time and place, 14th Century England. The book contains a broad and intertwined plot that starts in 1327 with four children sharing a fateful encounter in the forest. The tension of maintaining a secret related to this encounter ties the book's
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beginning and ending together. The historic events that become incorporated into this fictional story include the Hundred Years War and the Black Death Plague.

The story contained in this book occurs approximately 200 years after the story told in the prequel, Pillars Of The Earth. Many of the characters in World Without End are descendants of the characters in the earlier book. And just as architecture and construction were part of the earlier story, it is also found in this book. Again there are structures falling down with disastrous and life changing results. This time we learn that deteriorating foundation conditions below ground are the source of the structural problems. This is in many ways symbolic of the deterioration of the leaderships and economy of the region over the preceding 200 years. In the time of Pillars, the monastery had been a pious institution that encouraged learning and innovation; in the 14th century the monks have become conservative and discourage any modernization.

Modern day architects, engineers, doctors, nurses and even economists should enjoy reading about the struggles of working in a culture that honors revealed wisdom from past masters above that of current day innovators. It's also interesting to follow the politics and intrigue of life within a monastic priory where life is suppose to be focused on prayer. There are several examples in the story of smart women giving good advice to clueless men, so female readers should get a kick out of that.

The incidents in this book fit within the broad outline of 14th Century history. It paints a vivid picture of England's economy and class structure as well as the changes that resulted from the Black Death Plague. However, professional historians of the 14th Century will find plenty to quibble about. Some of the characters in the book are probably too skeptical of 14th Century thinking to be realistic. As a matter of fact, the two main characters, Merthin and Caris, have world views that are surprisingly compatible with those of typical 21st Century readers. Caris even has a rough concept of scientific medicine and Keynesian economics.

Since the commonly accepted theory regarding the primary transmission of the plague is that it was carried by fleas from rats, I was expecting the author to make some mention of the presence of rats. But no such reference is made. I know that the people at the time had no idea about that, but I thought some mention would be made of rats and fleas being present since the modern reader would be expecting it. There is reference in the story to a cat living in the priory, so perhaps it contributed to a reduced death rate by catching rats. But there is no observation made in the story that the cat was good at catching rats.

This book is popular literature, not great literature, aimed at entertaining today's reader. The author does a good job of doing just that by telling an interesting and entertaining story. As can be expected in popular literature, sexual thoughts and activity are fully explored in this book. The descriptions of sexual activity are not overly explicit, but are persistent enough to embarrass a prudish person like myself. If Canterbury Tales is any indication, the 14th Century was not an overly prudish time with regard to sex, so the book may be on target in this regard.

I think the book falls short in its description of the interrelationship between language and class in 14th Century England. Follett makes no attempt to make the dialogue reflect the dialect of the time. It is my understanding that, at the beginning of the 14th Century, the prevailing language of the educated upper class in England was French, while at the same time the peasant lower class spoke middle English (a la Chaucer). This changed by the end of the 14th Century with English being spoken by both upper and lower classes. (Parliament was opened in the English language for the first time in 1362.) There is a theory supported by some historians that this change was brought about by The Black Plague because so many school teachers died. The story as told in World Without End indicates several times that the educated English were able to speak Norman French. However, the narrative makes no mention of barriers in communication within English society caused by different languages spoken by upper and lower classes. I think the author missed an important issue of 14th Century English life by not emphasizing these language issues.

Another complaint, the book is too long. I wish authors who wanted to write stories this long would have arranged to be born in the 19th Century where they belong. People had more time to read then. In this era of so many books and so little time, books of this size really slow down progress on making it through the back-log of books to read. ;-)

Even though I can find things about the book to criticize, I nevertheless enjoyed it's lengthy and intertwined story. If I gave it fewer than five stars I would be guilty of being a hypocrite; pretending to be unimpressed with popular literature while secretly enjoying it. So I'll be honest and give it five stars based on the pure enjoyment of being immersed within a distant time in history.

If you're interested in a non-fiction account of this same time period from the French point of view, I recommend A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman.

Read in November, 2008
recommended for: anyone who enjoyed reading the book, "Pillars of the Earth."
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LibraryThing member xrayedgrl
Unlike Pillars of the Earth this book is quite drawn out and boring. The characters are not well developed and the sexual content is forced and frankly unneccessary for the plot development in most instances. I was so looking forward to this book as I love, love, love Pillars.
Such a let down!
LibraryThing member lit_chick
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to John Lee narrate World Without End, the sweeping sequel to Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. The epic novel in set in Kingsbridge and takes place over nearly four decades from 1327-1361. The two central characters, and the most interesting of the lot, are Caris,
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who has wanted since childhood to be a doctor, a profession reserved for men; and Merthin, her childhood friend who becomes a renowned architect and builder. A lengthy cast of secondary characters includes the petty, insecure Godwyn and his equally despicable mentee, Philemon, both religious figures; the power-hungry, abusive, rephrensible Ralph; strong-willed, wily Gwenda and her handsome, if not nearly as intelligent, husband, Wulfric.

World Without End is an adventurous, if treacherous, ride: plague, murder, rape, blackmail, heresy, witchcraft, and backroom political “deals” (yes, even in 1300!). John Lee does a fine, fine job of narrating. And while I did not find this one equal to Pillars, its predecessor, it did make for hours of captivating entertainment and is highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member msf59
This is Follett’s long-awaited follow up to his successful [The Pillars of the Earth]. It is also a sprawling epic of the Middle-Ages, taking place in fourteenth century England. It is populated with a variety of monks, serfs, nuns, builders and knights and everyone is either good or bad, without
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much in between. The storytelling rules here and you will be flipping pages to keep up with one plot crisis after another, although at over a thousand pages, this begins to grind the reader down somewhat. There is plenty of sex and violence and the Plague becomes a devastating presence. The author also returns with his “heaving bosom” fixation. Hey, I’m a devoted fan too but this almost becomes comical. I don’t think one female character enters a scene without her breasts mentioned. Regardless, this was a good entertaining read!
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LibraryThing member dougwood57
Having read Follett's excellent The The Pillars of the Earth (Deluxe Edition) (Oprah's Book Club) way back when, I simply had to read World Without End, which brings the story forward from the 12th to the 14th century. Unfortunately, reading Follett's book seems to last a good century at least.
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World Without End is just long and boring - A Story Without End might have been a more appropriate title. Over 1000 pages of the same story repeated over and over. Unlikely love (sex, anyway), unrequited love, church power struggles, and the plague are the themes repeated ad nauseam.

A previous reviewer had complained about the excessive sex in the book and, not having read the book yet, I thought that reviewer was just being a prude. Wrong. Sex occurs dozens of times and it's not even all that titillating or erotic. After a while, one wonders what is the point of the sex scenes. Perhaps Follett set himself goals of 1000 pages and 100 sex acts.

Follett's characters are an unusually randy bunch - I've no problem without that, except that the sex scenes tend to become boring with their repetition every ten pages or so. And then there's the plague, and then there's the plague, and then there's the plague, and...well, you get the idea.

A World Without End is just boring. And really long. The narrative voices tend to be entirely too modern in their viewpoint. Anachronistic in a word. The book is nearly a 1000 pages long and still manages to give a superficial treatment to the 14th century.

If you read Pillars of the Earth, then you probably feel compelled to read this sequel. Resist the urge. You can read three good books in the time you'll waste on this paperweight.
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LibraryThing member bjstarmans
Loved it! Well researched historical fiction with interesting characters. Sort of sequel to Pillars of the Earth although both books could easily stand on their own. Was very sad to finish it, even though it was lengthly. I'm looking forward to reading more from Ken Follett.
LibraryThing member purpledog
This second installment of the Kingsbridge series felt a lot like the first. The plot was almost the same with a few minor changes and the characters, which I did love, encountered a lot of the same difficulties. Despite this, I still enjoyed the book.

Even though it felt like a repeat at times, the
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plot was just so well written, and the prose was exceptional I found myself not minding.
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LibraryThing member Berly
I enjoyed this second book set in the Middle Ages, but not as much as Follett's first one, Pillars of the Earth. Once again, we have evil in the clergy, a smart builder who must overcome great odds, a business-savvy woman, and lots of really good villains. But this one just did not grab me. The
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plague was not as effective an inanimate character, like the church was in the first book. Perhaps because it is indifferent and heartless and also because it seemed to appear whenever the plot got slow. I certainly was not rooting for the plague! I did learn a lot about the history of the day, but part of that was due to the very intelligent comments left on the group read thread. I want to give it a four-star, but I have to settle for three and a half. I think I would have enjoyed this more NOT having read the first one. Am I glad I read it, yes, and I would still recommend it although looking back I realize my review is less than exultant. Okay, quick fix: historically interesting, good heroes, great villains, nice pace, good plot. At 1,000+ pages, this one definitely goes in my "tomestones" category!
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LibraryThing member indygo88
Like its predecessor Pillars of the Earth, World Without End is a very LONG epic saga of the lives & times in and around the town of Kingsbridge, England, this time in the 14th century. While you wouldn't need to have read Pillars prior to this one, it does provide some nice background which adds
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to the story. My feelings toward this book reflect those of Pillars, which I recently finished. It's a long-winded book and you've got to be willing to devote some time to it. You've got your heroes & heroines, as well as your bad guys. There's a fair amount of time devoted to architecture (cathedrals, specifically), but not as much in this book as was in Pillars. The Plague plays a large role in this one, which adds an interesting dimension to the story. Personally, I think the story was enjoyable enough, and it's obvious Follett definitely did his research. And though it was kind of sad to see the story come to an end, it was time. I think this story could've been just as effective in a slightly shorter volume.
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LibraryThing member Ananda
I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel (loosely termed) to Pillars of the Earth, which I've read at least three times. I hadn't been this excited for a book in a long time -- I veered off of my reading list and forgot about a couple of books I was supposed to read for my book group.
Yes, there are
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similarites to Pillars in many of the characters, but it is a couple of centuries removed and I especially liked Caris, the forward-thinking woman stuck in the 14th century. I can't wait for my husband to read it so we can discuss things.
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LibraryThing member MisterJJones
The sequel to Follett's Pillars of the Earth, World Without End delivers another weighty chunk of highly readable historical fiction, although it fails to live up to the standard set by the first.

Telling the tale of four very different characters growing up in 14th century England, World Without
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End tries very hard to be both historically accurate and an enjoyable read for a modern audience. For the most part it succeeds.

The story centres on the (fictional) town of Kingsbridge, with the politics of guilds and the church providing driving much of the story. The mediaeval church comes off pretty badly in Follett's hands, seeming a den of iniquity and hypocrisy in which the few good men are crushed by the weight of the bad. And the bulk of the story is taken up with detailing the sufferings of the 'good' characters. In fact, it reads a little like a soap opera at times, with some of the plot lines more than a little contrived.

The historical material, including descriptions of the architecture, is well done, but often awkwardly inserted in as-you-know-bob, infodump style. Follett does a good job of highlighting the conflict between tradition and the forthcoming scientific method in medicine, but this and the conflicts over the role of women seem somewhat anachronistic at times.

Although the characters are engaging enough, their motivations are a little random at times, and the plot is not helped by Follett's insistence on a 'blood breeds true' approach to psychology, in which a character's personality is pretty much decided at birth by who their parents were.

Despite these flaws, the story is engaging and highly readable, and a lot better than much of the historical fiction published. It's just a shame it isn't a little more polished.
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LibraryThing member itbgc
I loved this book and would give it a 5-star rating except that it is SO graphic! Why is it necessary to give every detail of sexual intercourse/rape/nude bodies, etc.?! If this book didn't include all those details, I would recommend it to everyone.

What's great about this book? It is so well
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written. I love the almost-nonstop action and the characters are so well developed. Great details about medieval times!
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LibraryThing member gooutsideandplay
Well......I have a number of criticisms of the book but on the whole I'm glad I read it. First of all, it is no where near the quality of Pillars of the Earth, which I remember to be absolutely magnificent. Here's some of 'whats wrong: two dimensional characters (why are all villians total
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sociopaths or idiotic mental cases?), tons and tons of inappropriate phrasing for the time period (I think one character actually says, "I haven't got a clue." -- what have we got, Valley Girls in 1348 England???), and zillions of absolutely non-erotic sex descriptions (Please, Ken, give up writing about sex or sit down and read some first-rate porn to get some more ideas) and finally, a meandering plot line focused on the plague of the 1340-50's.

But having said all that, if you are hooked on history, especially medical history and love the medieval period, you'll find much to enjoy. Follett does fairly well describing the ups and owns of civil life in a town suffering an incredible crisis and the deep changes -- mental, spiritual, economic, agricultural and political that ensued in the wake of the Black Death. The pace does pick up towards the end and I enjoyed the character of Gwenda, the plucky peasant woman, much more than that of Caris -- the business woman, turned nun, turned lay hospital administrator. Sorry, but I just found Caris completely unlikely in a time period where most women didn't live past their 40's -- never mind having a lover, an abortion, three major careers, authoring a successful medical book, being tried for witchcraft, and then being haled as a saint. Don't think so! Follett is trying to recreate the very interesting character of Prior Phillip from Pillars --- and I don't think it works.

I'm wondering what Follett has in store for us next. Shall we see Kingsbridge Cathedral endure the Blitz?
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LibraryThing member librarygeek33
I'm glad I didn't wait 20 years for the sequel. I felt the author was trying too hard. The historical "tidbits" seemed forced instead of a natural part of the story. 900 pages seemed too long for this one, whereas I didn't want "The Pillars of the Earth" to end.
LibraryThing member Exercise4life
Really enjoyed this book, but I was fine once it ended. All the ties were wrapped up and I was ready to leave Kingsbridge and happy how I left it.
LibraryThing member cchristian67
I absolutely loved Pillars of the Earth and enjoyed World Without End just a little bit less. I felt that the back plot of the latter book was more interesting, but I struggled to care about the characters in the same way that I cared about Phillip and Aliena and Jack. Overall, another book that is
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a deceptively quick and fun read.
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LibraryThing member mikitchenlady
Should be called "Book Without End". I read the first third, and decided to give it up after realizing that I had to set myself a schedule to read it (forcing myself to read one chapter per day). The story is too predictable with one dimensional characters (evil noblemen, calculating monks and
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priors, plucky and earnest peasants, etc.); complicated and uninteresting plots involving who will be in charge of the priory, who was in love with whom, who really wants to be someone they're not, etc. I enjoyed "Pillars of the Earth", but think there are so many better books out there to have this albatross weighing down my nightstand.
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LibraryThing member silva_44
I honestly didn't think that I would like this book as much as I enjoyed the original, The Pillars of the Earth, but I stand happily corrected. I couldn't put it down!! I became completely drawn in by Merthin's raw genious, Gwenda's earthiness and honesty, Caris' unexpected attitudes, and Ralph's
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brutality. The book has everything that one could want: mystery, love, history, violence, and the quest for power. Excellent read.
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LibraryThing member haloolah
I was vacationing on the Oregon coast with my family, and my dad brought this along in his stack of books. I snatched it up for myself and binge-read the entire thing.

It's a sequel to Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, which I remember really enjoying. I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but
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that one was interesting. My dad seems to like sweeping, epic stories, and whenever he's recommended something to me, I've liked it. He's the one who gave me Michener's Hawaii when I was in middle school (I loved it).

Anyway, this installment of the story picks up about 200 years after the cathedral was finished and centers on a young mason's apprentice and his romantic interest, the daughter of a wool merchant. I'm not going to pretend to be expert in the culture and history of the middle ages in Europe, but the characters didn't ring true. Caris, the female protagonist, was a very modern feminist and I couldn't help being annoyed by the obvious anacronistic behavior she displayed. Also, the story was a bit of a retread from the first book. Still, I liked it well enough to read all 1024 pages of it.
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LibraryThing member JeanWentz
Even though this was a lot like the first book in this series, I still got caught up in the struggles of these memorable characters. Some I loved, and some I loved to hate.


Penguin Books (2010), Edition: 1st Paperback Edition, 1056 pages

Original publication date



0446556815 / 9780446556811


Original language

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