There’s always something exciting when reading a book by Ken Follett, as the reader is subsumed with history, drama, and wonderful storytelling. Follett has done well with his Kingsbridge trilogy, so much so that he chose to add this, a prequel, to deliver context on some much-wondered happenings in the early stages. Set at the end of the Dark Ages, the story explores the lives of three key characters and how their interactions bring a community together over a period of time. While the world is slowly developing, there is much going on and societies are emerging with their own unique perspectives. Follett weaves a tale that is not only impactful, but offers series fans a remarkable treat and will have them rushing to re-read this epic series.
The Dark Ages are coming to an end in England, but that does not mean all is tranquil. With the Welsh and Vikings eyeing this jewel, no one is entirely safe, as the country is in flux. Chaos has taken over and many are left to fend for themselves. It’s 997 CE and a small English community awaits what will happen to them next.
Three distinct characters emerge, each with their own stories and hopes for the years to come. Edgar is a young boatbuilder, who lost the love of his life during a Viking raid. Ragna is a noblewoman who arrives from Normandy and seeks to make a new life for herself. Aldred is a young monk and hopes to make an ecclesiastical mark while setting up a monastery to help enrich the community. Each has a tale all their own, but their lives inch closer to being intertwined.
As the story progresses, the community of Dreng’s Ferry comes to life. Edgar tries to make a life for himself on unproductive farming land with two brothers, whose greatest worry is how they will survive being married to the same woman. Undeterred by the obstacles before him, Edgar makes a niche for himself and becomes a staple part of the community, earning the respect of those around him.
Ragna is from noble blood and finds herself in the community after she is married to one of the rich men. While she assumes that she will be able to rule alongside her husband, nothing could be further from the truth. Her husband’s brothers have other plans after his death, leaving Ragna with little as she seeks to stay afloat. With a burgeoning brood, Ragna suffers greatly at the hands of others. Her nobility means little to some, taking it so far as to make her a plaything and leave her to suffer, but Ragna refuses to be defeated. Rather, she does all she can to show her children that love and determination mean more than anything else.
Aldred is a lowly monk with high hopes for Dreng’s Ferry, seeking to make it a scholastic and religious centre in Europe where many can grow their knowledge and become better people. However, some of the local clergy have other ideas and try to destroy Aldred’s ideas and the monastery he hopes to build. Corruption abounds, leaving Aldred to turn to others for help, all while fending off those who would see him fail.
These three show how determination and a passion for others can shape the community in ways never thought possible. Dreng’s Ferry grows and soon becomes Kingsbridge, home of a bustling community and centre of Follett’s novel The Pillars of the Earth. I can only hope that patient and determined readers will try this book, as well as the official trilogy, losing themselves in the greatness that is this splendid series.
While I seem to have stuck to some of Follett’s heartier work (read: trilogies), I have never been disappointed. He is a master at telling a complex story with relatable characters and wonderful narrative flair. There is something to be said for this, while also penning massive tomes to get as much information shared as possible. Follett captivates as he reshapes the narrative throughout, spinning three stories and trying to bring them together under one proverbial roof. It was a journey like no other, but one I am pleased to have undertaken. With a new novel already out, I will have to see what new adventures Follett has in store for those who love his writing.
One thing that Follett has always done is use strong characters to guide the story, Here, he chose three presumptive protagonists and presents a thorough, delightful piece told through their eyes. While there is a great deal of backstory, the essence of the story brings out some masterful character development, first as independent characters, but slowly inching each together until the final chapter, as fans of Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth can see a recognisable location. Follett’s attention to detail with those he places in the story cannot be downplayed, as it helps create a picture in the mind of those who guide the narrative along.
While many find Ken Follett novels difficult to digest, it is usually because of an excessive amount of detail, rather than a lack thereof. Follett’s writing is so on point that I could not get enough of the details and the development that occurred with each passing chapter. A grounded narrative that slowly develops is accentuated with fundamentally ideal characters, all of whim have a richness that is essential to understanding the larger issues discussed. Plot twists and historical goings-on fuel a stellar story that seeks to lay the foundational groundwork for what is to come, a sensational trilogy about a cathedral and the town that develops around it. While there were portions that delved into areas that I did not find as alluring, there is surely something for everyone with this piece, leaving me enthralled with everything I read. I can see a new series that Follett’s recently released, which has me excited, as I am never sure what to expect.
Kudos, Mr. Follett, for leaving me curious yet again. Keep it up and your fan base will surely grow.