Reading Level: Adult
Genre: HIstorical Fiction
Length: 40 hours and 54 minutes (973 pages)
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Release Date: September 25, 2007
Stand Alone or Series: 1st book in the Pillars of the Earth series
Source: Audiobook from Audible.com
Rating: 4/5 stars
I have had this book on my to read list for a while. I finally got it on audiobook. It was a well done story done in a very epic fantasy-like style. However my primary thought while listening to it was “wow this is really long”.
The story starts out with Tom the Builder and his family. Tom would like to build cathedrals but he is currently working on a house for William (a noble) and his bride to be Ariana. When Ariana refuses to marry William, William stops building on the house and Tom is out of a job. Tom and his family wander around looking for work. We also read some from Philip’s viewpoint. Philip is a monk who runs a small priory in an isolated area. Philip dreams of becoming the Prior of Kingsbridge and of building a cathedral there.
The book switches between many viewpoints and goes over many decades of time. We mainly hear from Tom’s stepson Jack, Prior Philip, Ariana, and William. It’s a well done epic historical fiction, it’s done very much in the style of traditional epic fantasy. You follow four or five main perspectives throughout the book. All of the characters tie back into the story of a cathedral that is being built in the English town of Kingsbridge.
The story mainly follows the struggle to build the cathedral, as well as the struggle of the people involved to make a living and survive. A lot of the stories are very compelling. I especially found Ariana’s struggle to survive and build up a life for herself engaging. Ariana is one of those heroines who goes through more suffering than any character should, but you just can’t keep her down. Time after time she climbs out of deep despair and builds her self back up to success. I really enjoyed her portions of the story a lot.
This is definitely an adult’s only book. There are some very graphic rape scenes, graphic sex scenes, and graphic scenes of death, torture, and violence. Follett doesn’t shy away from talking about any of the unpleasantness of war and of this time in history.
I enjoy architecture, so I did enjoy a lot of the talk about how the cathedral was built and how changes in building technology altered the structure and plans throughout time. For me these were the most interesting parts of the book.
There is a lot of surrounding drama, some of which was really interesting…and some of which could have been cut out of the story to shorten it. Most of the things that happen do have some final impact on whether or not the cathedral will get built. However, sometimes there are very long interludes where we don’t hear about the cathedral and are off following other characters. This was a very good read, but I couldn’t help feeling at multiple points that the story could have been trimmed a bit and made a bit more tight and a bit less wandering.
Things were nicely wrapped up at the end. I liked where most of the characters’ stories were left and didn’t feel like there were any major issues that weren’t resolved.
I think the popularity of this book might be because it is basically an epic fantasy type of read that has gone mainstream, this allows the general populace to peak into a genre that they may not have normally read. Because it is different to them they are enraptured by the story While I enjoyed it, I just didn’t think it was any more spectacular than other epic stories I have read.
Overall I enjoyed the story but it was a bit too long for what it was. I would definitely recommend reading if you enjoy the history of architecture and if you enjoy historical fictions done in a very epic fantasy type of style. Follett does an excellent job of weaving history into an engaging story that is hard to put down. The whole story has a very epic fantasy-like style and feel to it. I probably won’t be reading the companion book to this one, the story was just too long and wandering for me.