Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Ken Follett is known worldwide as the master of split-second suspense, but his most beloved and bestselling book tells the magnificent tale of a twelfth-century monk driven to do the seemingly impossible: build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.

Everything readers expect from Follett is here: intrigue, fast-paced action, and passionate romance. But what makes The Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time the twelfth century; the place feudal England; and the subject the building of a glorious cathedral. Follett has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape. Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life.

The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the center of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king.(Goodreads)


This is undeniably one of the best books that I have read all year. Although it took me almost a month to read this book, it didn’t feel a drag at all – on the contrary, it’s been quite a delightful ride. I had a great kick out of reading this epic book.

The plot is well-crafted and simply magnificent. It’s packed with suspenseful moments and lots of dramas, and most importantly, it’s got everything – literally everything – I want in a book rolled into one.
I loved reading how the undercurrent main plot of building the cathedral intricately and masterfully entwines with so many subplots happening in this book, and how the characters are embroiled in the things that are beyond their controls and are affected by them. They are literally adrift in the sea of fate; one minute they are at the height of their prominence and the next minute they find themselves plunged into a state of destitute. As soon as they see a ray of hope at the end of a tunnel, the light was extinguished the very next moment, having their hope crushed. Rise and fall, defeat and hope. They keep coming almost alternatively throughout the book, it kept me turning pages. I just wanted to know how the story unfolds, how the characters end up. How gripping and captivating it was. I was completely mesmerized by this epic, grand story.

The writing is consistently solid, strong and incredibly descriptive. The descriptions of the church in Saint-Denis, in particular, was simply magical and breathtaking; the stream of light coming through rows of tall windows, how all the sunshine seems to fill the vast empty vessel of the church with warmth and light… utterly captivating and hypnotic. I felt as though the time stood still in the church; I was in awe of his writing. It took my breath away.

However, it also means there are some caveats; this book does contain some (not so many, I recall) gory scenes and it is where I think his prowess in writing was amazingly well-showcased. If you are squeamish and cannot take such descriptions, you might want to prepare yourself for the jolt; it’s surprisingly vivid and graphic. It did keep me engaged in the story the entire time, but this might not work for some of you – be advised that you bear that in mind when going into this book.

There were actually some slight incongruities in his choice of words that I found a bit odd, words like ‘ultra-sensitive,’ for instance. I personally found this incongruent with the overall tone of his writing; it felt a bit too casual and it didn’t sit well with me, but it didn’t pose much of a problem. It didn’t stop me from enjoying this book.
Overall, his writing is simply magnificent and enthralling. I fell in love with it.

To me, this book felt like a massive, grand tapestry consists of numerous fragments of quilts weaving individual characters’ stories. Each quilt beautifully and meticulously depicts each character’s drama – life, romance, struggles, defeat, vengeance…, placing them at the right place and then putting them together towards the end. Each story, each subplot is carefully and thoroughly delineated and I literally felt as though I were experiencing and vicariously living their lives. The execution was beyond reproach.
The romance between the main two characters which spans over several decades is also dramatic and gripping. To be honest, this was not a twist what I was expecting from this book, but I liked the fact that it didn’t end up overly sugary nor saccharine. It’s dramatic, but not overly melodramatic. Their eventual reunion in the church of Saint-Denis which takes place right after the discovery of the ideal architecture for Kingsbridge cathedral was executed with the perfect balance, making this book even more entertaining. This was definitely one of my favorite scenes in this book.

The characters are all well-fleshed out and strong; I had a ‘love or hate’ connection with each character. Some characters are downright evil and despicable; no matter how many times they taste the bitterness of defeat, they keep coming back like a phoenix, concocting and conspiring another scheme to seize power again. They are driven by greed and lust for power, I no longer remember how many times I gritted my teeth with frustration and how strongly infuriated I was by them; I seriously wanted to strangle them, each and every one of them.
But then, at the other end of the spectrum, you have just relatable, loveable characters whom you want to root for no matter what. They are all impactful both in a good way and a bad way, I was so invested in them that I sometimes felt mentally drained. I can honestly say this emotional connection with these characters is what made this book so magical and captivating.

The only issue that I had with this book was the last part of the book, especially the last 70 pages.
The whole denouement segment felt a bit drab and lackluster compared with the other parts of the book.
It is indeed twisty down to the last minute, there is actually a shocker in store in the very end which made me hold my breath, but overall, I felt it kind of lost momentum, I was just along for the ride to see how this epic story eventually wraps up.

The very ending left me in two minds; I didn’t know whether I should feel happy, relieved or feel sad. It left me with somewhat a bittersweet, poignant feeling.

That said though, again, this is undeniably by far the best book I’ve read this year. 1088 pages didn’t feel as long as I had thought. In fact, I didn’t want it to end; it would have been totally fine if there were another few hundreds of pages to go.
It was quite a delightful, exhilarating ride. I thoroughly enjoyed living in the town of Kingsbridge, witnessing all the dramas involving building the cathedral.
I ended up docking a half star, but I highly, vehemently recommend picking this up. It’s definitely worth your time.

Check this book

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TAG: Goodreads Book Tag

Thank you so much, Nika@Bookster for tagging me for this Goodreads Book Tag!
Nika and I met about two weeks ago (sorry if I’m wrong…), and she has been so nice and approachable since the very first moment! I love reading her book reviews, they are very detailed and thorough; they are very eloquently executed! If you haven’t already, go check that out!

Now, let’s talk about Goodreads. (Yes, this tag is supposed to be all about Goodreads, is it not?)
I joined Goodreads in April, 2014. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I didn’t use to be THIS hardcore bookworm until last summer. I used to be sort of an ‘on-and-off’ bookworm, so I only used Goodreads sporadically.
But guess what? Goodreads has now become one of my most-accessed social media!
Find me on Goodreads and let’s be friends ❤

Now, let’s move on to the questions!

Questions:

1. What was the last book you marked as “read”?
I just finished The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. YES!!! I finally made it!!! It took me nearly a month but I am super happy and am basking in the sense of accomplishment right now… man, what a ride it has been!!!
But to be perfectly honest, I didn’t want it to end. I was so invested in the story and the characters… The last 50 pages or so felt a tad drag and slippery at times, but overall this was quite a delightful read. Undeniably one of the best books of 2017.

 

2. What are you currently reading?
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka. I got this book from NetGalley and I’m planning to single-mindedly focus on this book for the time being. It’s been almost a month since my request was approved and I am actually feeling a bit of pressure right now. Finishing this book and writing up feedback is my first priority at the moment.

 

3. What was the last book you marked as “to be read”
In all honesty, it’s The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett which was recommended by my Goodreads friend. But I know you are a bit tired of hearing me gushing how much I want to read his books, I’ll say Beartown by Fredrik Backman.
As I love going into the book pretty blindly, I don’t know almost anything about the synopsis, but it seems like pretty heavy (or emotionally gripping?) and I have heard lots of good things about it. So, I’ll definitely pick up this book by the end of this year.

 

4. What book do you plan to read next?
The Breakdown by B.A. Paris. As I told you in my Read-A-Thin Post, this is another book I was approved by NetGalley. Again, it’s been almost a month since I downloaded it. I think I’ll need to read/write feedback like ASAP. This will definitely be the next book that I’ll read once I’ve finished Girl in Snow.

 

5. Do you use the star rating system
Yes, I do. But I still don’t have any specific definition or idea as to what quality a book needs to have or how emotionally gripping a book has to be to deserve high ratings or low ratings, etc, etc…
As a fledgling bookworm, I don’t think I have been exposed to as many good/wonderful books as you have. So my rating can be pretty lenient and loose. That being said though, I have a feeling that I am getting a bit more critical towards books than before, especially nowadays.

6. Are you doing the 2017 reading challenge?
Yes, I am. I do reading challenge every year. I never skipped a year. Never. My goal for the 2017 reading challenge is to read 70 books. With another 4 months to go, I’ve finished 58 books. I am actually debating whether to push up the number to 80 or not, but for the time being, it’s finishing 70 books and I’ll see how the wind blows.

7. Do you have a wishlist?
Sort of. But it’s more like a reminder for me; whenever a book catches my interest, I add the book to my wishlist either at Amazon or Book Depository (it depends on what edition I can get at both sites) and I come back to the wishlists when I feel like buying books.  Again, it’s a pretty casual one, not something like ‘the list of books I’m dying to read!!!’ kind of stuff. I don’t even check back on them sometimes.

8. What book do you plan to buy next?
I think I probably won’t be buying books until September, but I’ve already got several books lined up on my to-buy list. The books are:

 

9. Do you have any favorite quotes? Share a few.
In all honesty, I don’t think much of quotes. There are some quotes or phrases that I am mesmerized by, but I don’t go so far as to remember them or write them down. So… there’s none. Sorry!

10. Who are your favorite authors?
Although I say things like, ‘I love his/her books!’ every now and then, but I have yet to find any ‘auto-buy’ authors whose work I’ll definitely jump at no matter what. But, I’d say Ken Follett would be pretty close to that level. We’ll see.  🙂

11. Have you joined any groups?
Yes, I have joined 3 groups. Catching up on Classics (and lots more!), Top 5 Wednesday, and EVERYONE Has Read This but Me – The Catch-Up Book Club.
I joined the latter two when I was so into reading Classics a couple of months ago, but obviously, I am not in the mood for Classics right now, so I’ve been not so active in those groups, sadly to say 😦

 

I tag:

Mischenko@ReadRantRock&Roll
Jo-Ann@Inspiration Pie
mojoreb@Book Mojo
Holly B@Dressed to Read

I honestly want to tag ALL OF YOU, but I’ve been tagging so many of you lately and I feel a bit guilty about it thus I only picked a handful of bloggers here. That said though, if you are interested in doing this tag, please do!!
Consider yourself tagged and have fun! Just link back to me so that I can read your answers! 🙂

Thank you so much for reading as always, I’ll see you in my next post 😀
Hope you have a great weekend! (I need to go renew my driver’s license… duh)

Noriko

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