Review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love.

Ned Willard wants nothing more than to marry Margery Fitzgerald. But when the lovers find themselves on opposing sides of the religious conflict dividing the country, Ned goes to work for Princess Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, all Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch sets up the country’s first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions, and invasion plans. Over a turbulent half-century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. Elizabeth clings to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents.

The real enemies, then as now, are not the rival religions. The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else—no matter what the cost. (Goodreads)

I honestly don’t know how to and where to begin my review.
I assume you have had moments where you cannot say anything but “I simply adore this book!” and I am exactly in that state right now; I don’t even have ways to clearly articulate my thoughts about this book, as to what enthralled me and what captured my imagination. My poor vocabulary and meager words will never suffice to describe how enticing this book is, but I’ll try to state my thoughts anyway. This book totally held me in thrall. I simply adored this book.

The plot is, just like the last two books in the series, grand and epic. In terms of the magnitude of the plot, I think this book far exceeds the last two books. The last two books, as far as I’m concerned, are predominantly based in Kingsbridge, a fictional place in the Medieval England, and a lot of stories took place in the small town describing the lives of those who contributed to building the cathedral as well as those who tried to challenge them. They were a lot of dramas and some places other than kingsbridge were mentioned in the story, but the main venue of the story was certainly Kingsbridge as the title of the series suggests.

However, in this book, the realm of the story spans over multiple countries in Europe, jumping out of the comfortable cocoon of Kingsbridge. Set in the Victorian era of England, this book weaves, once again, a massive tapestry of dramas with multiple layers… religious wars between Catholic and Protestant, the bloodshed and numerous attempts and schemes surrounding Elizabeth Tudor, who later assumed the throne of England and Mary Stuart, the queen of Scots,  and the volatile, turbulent England on the brink of the Spanish invasion.
Some of the main characters are indeed from Kingsbridge, but the plot is no longer confined to the small town of England, and I think that’s what stands out about this book liked it or not.

In fact, this is probably what made me a bit baffled and caused my confusion especially in the first half. As usual, a lot of names and characters appear in the course of the build-up, it took me some time to connect their names but that was expected. What really stumped me was that this book is loosely based on some historical facts and figures, being not so big on world history, if anything, for someone who had forgotten most of it, it was a struggle to grasp the character dynamics and who did what along the way.

It might be due to my predisposition of wanting to connect the names with the characters (I didn’t relish the feeling of missing out), and I dropped the ball in that regard, it kind of became a trauma and left me a bit hesitant to pick it back up.

That said, however, once I did pick it up and resume reading, I was enthralled and captivated once again.
I had to backtrack a hundred pages to refresh my memory, but once it all came back to me and the story started moving again, I couldn’t put it down nor did I want to put it down.
The intricately and methodically woven dramas of the characters and the long-lasting, muddling battle between two nemeses over the span of several decades enticed me and never let me go till the end.
The tension and thrills from not knowing in which direction the scale would be tipped and a slew of narrow escapes and conspiracies between the aforementioned two nemeses added a lot of excitement to this book, I enjoyed following this epic, magnificent story tremendously.

Ken Follett is undeniably a master of storytelling. It is long with close to 1000 pages, no doubt, and the story building might come across a bit too much and superfluous at some point, but they all add up in the end and he evoked my emotions and feels every now and then, making my heart squeeze for the blood that had been shed under the pretext of whose God being superior, wondering what length people could go once they are caught up in the pursuit of their own take on Justice. He didn’t leave me bored at all.

I honestly miss this book already… I initially thought this book was my least favorite in the series because of my struggle in the beginning and the love and hate relationship with the characters was not what I went through with this book. Regardless, as I got closer and closer to the end and inched toward the climax of the face-off, I started missing this book, hating the idea of having to leave this world and go back to reality.
This book has a distinct charm that is different from the last two books, and I think it worked brilliantly on the whole.
As a matter of fact, I even started thinking of rereading the entire series.   It was that enticing and captivating, making you thirst for more.

This is all I can say for now about this book and I know this is probably one of the most incoherent and poorest reviews that I have ever written, but I don’t know how to do this but this way. This is the best I could and I’ll leave you readers to decide whether to pick up this book or not.
But I’ll tell you once again – I absolutely adored this book, it’s definitely worth your time. Another masterpiece from Ken Follett. I fell in love with this book.

My Rating: ★★★★★

Many thanks goes to Jay for buddy-reading this book with me and nudging me forward with tantalizing tidbits along the way! It’s been so much fun gushing about it with you!

18 thoughts on “Review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

  1. We read together. I just finished the last 300 pages a few days early. 🙂

    I love sharing thought like these on this book with you. Your review matched the beauty of the book and story. Sometimes there isn’t anything to do or say but gasp with excitement and shock.

    I relived the book reading this just now. Thank you!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andie @ Andrea's Nirvana says:

    This seems like such a fun book! I used to not be that big on historical fiction, but since The Book Thief I was kinda corrupted into the genre 😀
    Will check this out, great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. M. S. jimmie cockburn says:

    I’m reading in kindle, few more pages to go (400), i have been absorbed by this book. Can’t stop reading, it is like a movie or theater show , it is A LIVE.


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