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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


paperback | Kindle | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


paperback | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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Kindle | paperback (UK)

PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Follett, Ken: World Without End

  Amazon  

5 stars

Ken Follett's World Without End is a sequel of sorts to his 1989 bestseller The Pillars of the Earth. Follett's earlier book was set in the mid-12th century and had to do with the construction of a cathedral in Kingsbridge, England. World Without End takes place in Kingsbridge also, but some two hundred years later. One of its principal characters is a descendant of the architect of the cathedral. But the connection between the two books is minimal, so that reading or remembering what happened in Pillars is not a prerequisite for enjoying this novel.

If you've read other books by Ken Follett, you'll know what to expect in this one: a strong heroine who rebels (arguably anachronistically) against the limitations imposed on her sex, a noble proto-feminist male lead; their love and ambitions are thwarted by morally bankrupt bad guys until, after overcoming innumerable obstacles, they triumph over their adversaries. If that makes Follett's novels sound formulaic, I suppose they are. But the author packs some enormously entertaining writing on this familiar scaffolding. His books are invariably page turners. And his characters are fleshed out sufficiently so that we always know what motivates them and we understand the complexities of their competing interests.

World Without End opens in 1327, when its main characters meet as children. Initially it's hard to keep the various personalities straight, but they soon become familiar. Merthin, at eleven, is the eldest, and heir to the talent that his cathedral-building forbear had possessed. Ralph, Merthin's brother, shows signs already at ten of the violence and sociopathy that would later come to the fore. Gwenda is the light-fingered daughter of a thief, and Caris the unconventional and intelligent daughter of a wool merchant. The book follows their lives for more than thirty years as they fight to improve their situations: Gwenda seeks to dig her family out of poverty; Ralph aspires to restore his family to the nobility; and Caris and Merthin devote themselves to saving Kingsbridge itself after various reverses--economic downturns, a bridge collapse, the devastating consequences of the plague. At every turn they are opposed--by scheming monks and self-important guild authorities and a uninterested or cruel nobility.

I had some problems with the book. Thomas's dramatic appearance on the scene at the beginning of the book suggests that he will play a more important role in the story than he does. And the great secret he's been keeping, when it's finally revealed, is anticlimactic. Also, while most of the story takes place in Kingsbridge and in surrounding villages, Caris travels to France in one section of the book and gets caught up there in the ongoing hostilities between the French and English. This part of the book did not add much to the story and could have been excised from it, and I also found it implausible in parts. It has hard to believe, for example, that Caris--one in an army of thousands--always seems to be close enough to hear conversations between important leaders. Finally, the onset of the plague is too often signaled by dramatic brief sentences telling us that some character or other has sneezed.

But these are minor complaints about a book that's more than 1000 pages long and held my interest to the very end. World Without End is another great read from Follett, one of my favorite authors. It's highly readable--happily lacking in the stilted dialogue found so often in historical fiction. Follett is able, too, to describe complex things--in this book often involving architectural details, which are so important to the story--in simple prose. Don't let the book's enormous length scare you off.

Comments

1.

Debra, I didn't have the problem of holding a 1000 page book that you had - I heard Richard E. Grant read it and it lightened by car trips to and and from work for several weeks. I've linked to my rather skinny review.

2.

Good review, Kerrie!

I actually read this one on my iPod, so I didn't have a big book to lug around either, which I was very thankful for :)

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