Five stars (of five)
First and foremost, happy 2015! What a novel to begin a new year reading and absorbing!
After being highly impressed with the Pillars series created by Follett, I hoped to find as much depth and development in the Century Trilogy.The premise, following the fates of five interrelated families against a backdrop of world events is brilliant in its imagining and stellar in its delivery. The reader is introduced to Billy Williams early in the novel, as he enters the Welsh mining pits. His family acts as a wonderful bridge as Billy’s sister, Ethel, a housekeeper for the aristocratic Fitzherberts, takes a fateful step outside her accepted caste. Lady Maud Fitzherbert herself crosses deep into forbidden territory, bridging the story into another family, when she falls in love with Walter von Ulrich, a German living in London while tensions mount and the Great War is imminent. Filling out the cast of characters is Gus Dewar, an American law student who begins new career in Woodrow Wilson’s White House, and two Russian brothers, Grigori and Lev Peshkov, who seek the freedoms that America alone can offer them. Follett lays the early foundations of a very powerful and deeply intertwined novel sure to grow as history progresses, putting families, nationalities, and alliances to the test throughout.
The historical arc of the novel, 1911-1924, covers a great deal and touches on some very important events. With the rise of the Great War developing throughout the early part of the novel, the reader is pulled in to view things from all sides. Additionally, the snapshot of Russia shows the discontent seen in the streets and the eventual rise of revolutionary sentiment. Underlying these political changes, discussion about universal suffrage cannot be ignored or discounted as important both within Europe and North America. Follett captures these threads and spins them inside the larger character development seen throughout the novel. It only adds to the greatness and intricate detail of this novel.
This was my second reading of this novel, the first coming soon after its release. I felt that once the trilogy was done, I ought to take the time to read all three and see, with no interruptions, how the series grows and its characters develop. Fans of the Edward Rutherfurd multi-generational sagas will surely fall in love with this book, as will those who loved the nuanced character development of Jeffrey Archer (who is currently penning his own multi-generational series). Follett has bitten off much in this trilogy, but has shown his ability to keep all his characters under control and following a decisive path. He captures the reader’s attention and allows them to choose a favourite storyline, knowing full well that it may merge with another before the novel is done. I cannot wait to see how things develop as families intermingle and offspring hold alliances that may and will clash. Stellar work and I am so glad I came back to this for its full effect.
Kudos, Mr. Follett for this wonderful opening novel in the series. You have my rapt attention.