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Ken Follett

Book One of the Century Trilogy

A-Fall of GiantsKen Follett is the author of numerous spy thrillers and two blockbuster historical novels, Pillars of the Earth (1989) and World Without End ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2008). Pillars of the Earth was recently adapted into a big-budget miniseries starring Rufus Sewell and Donald Sutherland.

The Story: Follett leaves the Middle Ages firmly behind with Fall of Giants, the first installment in a planned trilogy set during the 20th century. As World War I unfolds, five families from around the globe face upheaval and change. In England, siblings Fitz and Maud Fitzherbert find themselves members of a dying aristocracy. In Wales, young Billy Williams works in a deadly coal mine while his sister, Ethel, toils away in domestic service. American Gus Dewar trades a prestigious White House post for the war trenches of Europe. Walter von Ulrich is a German spy working in England. And brothers Grigori and Lev Peshkov, orphaned during the Russian Revolution, grow up to lead very different lives.
Dutton. 985 pages. $36. ISBN: 9780525951650

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Fall of Giants ... a surprisingly detailed and charged re-creation of the period between the end of the 19th century and the years following World War I, overflows with characters attempting to delineate their responsibilities, whether to realize them or to evade them; with those in pursuit of enlightenment or seeking to manipulate it; and with some people simply attempting to understand what they should do to survive. ... It is not the least of Follett's feats that the reader finishes this near 1000-page book intrigued and wanting more." M. E. Collins

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Follett, known more for his storytelling than his literary craftsmanship that can verge on the overwrought, has outdone even himself here. ... It's a book that will suck you in, consume you for days or weeks, depending upon how quick a reader you are, then let you out the other side both entertained and educated." Craig Wilson

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It is perhaps Follett's greatest virtue as a novelist than he has been able to bring forward a writing style he perfected in his earlier thrillers--suspenseful, tightly constructed, sharply characterized, plot-driven--into some of the biggest-picture fiction being written today." Melinda Bargreen

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Follett is neither a master of subtle characterization nor an elegant stylist. ... Despite all this, Fall of Giants offers pleasures that more than compensate for its lack of literary finesse." William Sheehan

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"[T]here is a rote quality to Fall of Giants reminiscent of a picture painted by numbers: It lacks depth and is short on originality. Reading its stilted sentences as they unfold a predictable plot is rather like biting into a luscious-looking cake only to find that, despite all its decorative embellishments, it has neither the requisite flavor or texture to satisfy." Martin Rubin

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Follett, who was once a Welsh boy himself but grew up to become his generation's most vaunted writer of colorless historical epics, kicks off a whopping new trilogy. His apparent ambition: to span the whole 20th century in blandly adequate novels so fat that they're hard to hoist." Janet Maslin

Philadelphia Inquirer 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Follett has granted himself the length--1,000 pages--to address the period without bringing any particular depth or originality to what is essentially a formulaic exercise. ... As it stands, even Follett fans are likely to prefer the nave of Kingsbridge Cathedral to the busy corridors of power in Fall of Giants." Desmond Ryan

Critical Summary

Some reviewers were loathe to call Ken Follett a mediocre writer outright, choosing instead to soften their criticisms with varying levels of diplomacy. The Washington Post noted that "Follett may not be Tolstoy, but he knows how to tell a compelling, well-constructed story," and the Seattle Times commended Follett for not indulging "in high flights of literary artistry." The Chicago Sun-Times also found the multiple narratives intriguing, despite the "sometimes clunky dialogue." Other reviewers were less impressed, calling the book predictable, formulaic, and overheated, with unsuccessful attempts at both characterization and connecting the political with the personal. Readers willing to tackle the nearly 1,000 pages may very well enjoy themselves, but the New York Times warns: "It is most memorable as a test of readers' fortitude." Stay tuned for Book II, The Winter of the World.