The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet
The words “saga” and “epic” cannot even come close to describing this almost exhausting tale of Phillip, the monk/prior and Tom the Builder and the lives touched by these 2 good people. They are characters that live in the 1100’s in England, during a time when the Church and the king were always in a constant struggle for power and wealth, as were their underlings. Phillip and Tom, shared a dream of building a large, beautiful cathedral in their priory of Kingsbridge. Unfortunately, their efforts were constantly being thwarted by their rivals for power, the evil men, William (a knight battling for earldom and Waleran, Phillip’s devious senior in the church. The many, many vicious and violent efforts to thwart the building of the cathedral were overcome by sheer power of will and political maneuvering that keep the story very suspenseful. There are some very gritty scenes of violence, but there are also many scenes of love and valour and honor which may bring more than a tear to your eye.
This is a very long book and some parts stall a bit. There is a lot of detail about the architecture and the construction of the buildings that might be a little drawn out. At one point, I was ready to give up on either side even while the characters were not! The near-misses and the almost fatal blows and the coincidences were just a bit contrived, but were very suspenseful nonetheless.
Best of all, this book really gives the reader the flavor of the hardships of life in the Middle Ages, when there was so much strife between the King and the Church and so much of the everyday life was influenced by the whims of either one. Whether you were a peasant or a lord at this time, your life was changeable at a moment’s notice, depending on your alliances and how they shifted. Power changed frequently and those in power were often ruthless. The harsh conditions and gritty existence of their lives was highlighted as was the potential for abject poverty and hunger that many experienced. But there was also good and kindness and even forgiveness and some of the goodness of the Prior Phillip was very heartening.
While I was exhausted from this book, I also didn’t want it to end. It is an excellent book and I heartily recommend it. I would just also recommend finding a light, fun book to read afterwards — that is just what I need right now!