The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is a very long book. I struggled to finish it, I fought with myself and almost debated on putting it down, but I cannot entirely do that with a book that I’ve started unless it is completely and utterly horrible. This, however, is not horrible, it reminds me of a soap-opera. Drama, drama and drama stacked upon more drama. There is rape, murders, revenge, greed, power, love triangles, witches, politics, knights, and quite a bit of architecture.
The story, the main line of the story, follows through three generations of a family of stone masons, extended family through marriage, re-marrying, and various other events. Several kings, monk/prior, morally questionable bishop, ruthless Earl all affect these individuals. The inter-relationships are constantly evolving between this group of people, EVERYTHING that could happen somehow happens to this one core group of people within this book. Every time that you think things are going to settle down, that they are going to have a few moments of peace and quiet something else happens to them.
We also get quite a decent view of medieval culture, with a major focus on religion and the political power of monastery, priory, or diocese – life is funded and how much it seriously stinks to be amongst the lowest ranks of society. Cathedrals, this one type of building holds so much focus throughout this book, in fact it is Tom Builder’s one goal to finally build a cathedral. The musings of Ken Follett in the Foreward of this book states that one of the things that he could not understand is why people in time of great destitution would put so much time, energy and resources into buildings of such a scale, this topic is one of the ones addressed in this book. There is a lot to learn about architecture and the evolution of cathedral-building throughout this book. By the time you are done you will know quite a bit about the following parts of a cathedral: nave, chancel, transept, cloister, and clerestory, as well as be able to use several different words for “horse.”
I started reading and at first could only get through about 5-10% at a time (reading on my Kindle), I considered giving up more than once, but when I hit the fifty percent mark, I forced myself to work through the remainder of it in two nights finishing the last 50% in two parts. The building is constant and is the main reason to keep the central family of masons from wandering off and having more illicit marriages, and it is the ongoing reason political power struggles. You might give some of the characters labels and you will change the labels that you give them multiple times throughout the story, and wonder more often than not wonder what else could possibly happen to these people.
I don’t like that the big climax came with just about 100 or so pages left to go, and that kinda sucked because the rise and fall of the wrap-up shouldn’t necessarily need 100 pages, because it tends to lose focus, and while lose ends are nicely tide up, you lose the gripping-page turner that you had within the first like 900 pages of the book, but since you are so close you will find that you will just plow through it.