Ken Follett has pulled off another fine story. The depiction of life in 14th Century England is so well done that I consider this work a historical novel. Like his previous masterpiece, Pillars of the Earth, Follett spun a story of intrigue, suspense, drama, and of humanity.
Follett is a master craftsman. Solid use of grammar in well turned phrases gives life to what might otherwise be another account of hardship in the middle ages. That is not intended to discount his story telling capacity. Story is always the most important element – but a well turned phrase can add the luster of fall leaves. This is not just a story – it is a dynamic work that changes with the seasons.
The suspense of conspiracy is fun, but I enjoyed reading the depiction of craft guilds, the practice of medicine, the dogma of religion, the righteousness of the noble classes, and the trauma of pandemic illness. Follett accurately projected the economic trauma on an agrarian culture by recurring episodes of the plague.
Again, Follett has used a few central characters to tell a story of life in a particular historical time period. His novel would be an excellent supplement to a scholarly study of this time period.
The projection of the Catholic Church is accurate – but I am compelled to note to readers that these abuses were largely corrected by the first Vatican Council in 1555. Historical views on practices like the sale of indulgences generally attest to the most egregious abuse – Follett is able to reduce this ill conceived idea to actual practice in the lower classes. For instance, the early Church forbid working on Sundays. When a crisis struck the Priory the craftsman of the town were called to work on Sunday – they were ‘indulged’ with forgiveness by the Priest.
It would be very interesting to see a person of Follett’s talent tackle some of the same issues facing us today.
I came away from this work with a feeling of satisfaction. Thank you Ken Follett for your thoughtful work.