Tuesday, November 25, 2008

BOOKS: World Without End

I had greatly enjoyed Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, and so I was looking forward to World Without End. While not exactly a sequel, his second medieval novel picks up in the same town of Kingsbridge two and a half centuries later, so that his first novel is the local history and its characters the ancestors of the characters of his second novel. It completely lived up to my expectations, and held me rapt. Once again he has woven a fascinating tale of love, ambition (both lofty and venial), and intrigue around an engaging set of characters, and enriched with a depth of historical context. While engrossed in the struggles of an independent-minded woman, an excellent architect with a poor start in life, a brutish knight, and a scheming prior, I inadvertently learned a heap of history, such as the economic development of medieval English boroughs, the wars of King Edward III in France, and the principles of medieval medicine. It was fascinating to me to learn things like how the wool trade gave way to the cloth trade, how feudal lords lost control of their tenant laborers, what the experience of the Plague was like, and how brutal the English invaders were in France. (That last item gives me a new appreciation for the famous Rodin sculpture The Burghers of Calais.) These historical details are not the least bit pedantic, but are vividly described, forming integral background to the rich tapestry of Follett's gripping characters and story. Through a span of a generation, the story explores, among other themes, the interesting question of what options were available for a smart, independent woman in the mid-14th century. I thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating historical tale.

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