three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
By: 
Ken Follett
user_rating: 
0

A-World Without EndIn Kingsbridge, a market town in 14th-century England, Merthin and Ralph (the sons of an impoverished knight), Caris (a merchant's pretty daughter), and Gwenda (a homely peasant) strive to live out their hopes and dreams. Set 200 years after Pillars of the Earth (1989), World follows these children of different social classes. Bound together by a witnessed murder of great consequence, they come of age in a perilous but exciting world of calamity and upheaval, where outmoded, traditional mores clash with new, progressive ideas and technologies. Against this backdrop of discovery, violence, corrupt nobles, indiscreet monks, power-hungry landowners, unethical bishops, serfs, poverty, love, and lust, the Black Death strikes.
Dutton. 1024 pages. $35. ISBN: 0525950079

Daily Express (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It's almost impossible to sum up a single plot line as the book twists and turns through its myriad characters. But that is its strength-though the size is daunting, it really does bring the struggling city and its denizens to life." Nick Ryan

Independent (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If this sometimes feels like being stuck in a history lesson, it's always an interesting one. ... Where Follett excels is in telling a yarn. There is sufficient intrigue here, enough turns within double-twists, to hold readers through all the 91 chapters." Bill Greenwell

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Where Follett excels . . . is in the dramatization of the politics of clergymen versus burghers versus nobles-the constant tug of war that made medieval life as contentious as our age of litigation. Monastic politics, for example, usually come coated with dust in academic histories; here, thanks to Follett's breezy, anachronistic style, the obscure infighting is fresh and diverting." Stephen O'Shea

Sydney Morning Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Conveying so much information, committed to an action-driven narrative, Follett wisely chooses a very plain idiom, neither pseudo-medieval, nor slangishly modern. His command of the design of his book is as impressive as Merthin's construction of the tallest building in England." Peter Pierce

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The novel's greatest strength lies in its well-researched, beautifully detailed portrait of the late Middle Ages. ... Of course, the best research in the world does not a story make, but Follett also comes through with a terrifically compelling plot." Diana Gabaldon

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3 of 5 Stars
"Follett's vast canvas for World is less focused, stretching over a multitude of subplots and themes, and sometimes his desire to show us so much is frustrating. ... Somehow Follett manages to weave together his characters' lives, the Black Death, the French-English wars, medical discoveries, feminism, the evolution of weaving cloth, legal proceedings, politics, architecture, organized religion, and more." Bill Greenwell

Critical Summary

The sequel to Ken Follett's best-selling Pillars of the Earth (1989) is equally compelling-and equally long. World moves the action from the 12th to the 14th century, following the descendants of the earlier book's main characters and continuing its use of architectural details as a way to explore themes of change and continuity. Critics praised the novel's intricately constructed plot, lively pace, and overall exuberance, if at times the complex subplots overwhelm the main theme of stasis versus change. While some reviewers criticized Follett's characters for being no more than pawns of larger forces, most agreed with the Washington Post's assessment that "the ups and downs of [the characters'] lives are so well engineered that their lack of dimension isn't a major problem." Though engaging on most levels, World and its 1,000 pages may be best suited for patient readers who don't mind a book seemingly without end.