I feel like I would be leaving a lot out if I didn’t talk about all THREE of the massive novels in this trilogy (which I hope will continue for years to come!)
I first laid eyes on this novel when I was about 15 or so, my mum was reading it and I snuck a peak at it while it was on her bedside table. It began with a hanging, with children jostling to get a good view, and I remember thinking “What on Earth?! Why would anyone be excited to see someone hang?!”. Over the years I thought about it on and off, until finally I bought my own copy and decided to get over the size of it and just dive in.
My mum and I have a similar broad taste in books so I figured if she’d liked it, I probably would, though historical fiction is probably one of my least read genres.
In the most broad terms, the story is of a man who wants to build a cathedral. We follow a family as they live through poverty, loss, and hardship and pull themselves from absolute ruin into success. As well as a side character/family who carry their own burdens and come together with the others to form a beautiful bond that lasts literally a lifetime. There is murder, betrayal, and action from the initial pages until the very end.
The second Kingsbridge installment follows on from the original story, though a few generations later. There are references to the previous characters and how their history impacts the current characters.
In World Without End we experience the onset of the plague and from here we get to meet Caris, one of my favourite characters, a woman in medicine who defies all cultural and medical beliefs of the time in order to save as many of the people of Kingsbridge as possible. The story takes place in and around the original cathedral from the first installment, and allows us to see the ways in which Kingsbridge has changed over the centuries. The characters are impossible not to love, and the theme of putting what’s right before what is desired is one that we can all relate to, though it does all come to a satisfying conclusion.
This most recent installment follows several family members and branches out from Kingsbridge into the wider world. It follows the history of Elizabeth and Mary’s fight for the ruling of England, as well as the battle that raged between Catholicism and Protestantism.
This one was the hardest for me to get through, unlike the previous novels, no one really captured me other than Sylvie, and so reading parts other than hers were kind of slow. There is one thing I do love to read about, however, and that’s a skirmish at sea. Toward the end of the novel, we get to experience a lot of what it was like to battle with canons and ships on the ocean.
As with the other Kingsbridge novels, there were romances and impossible choices, betrayals, secrets, and espionage. I enjoyed thinking of this novel after finishing it more than I did reading it, though, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just a different experience.
I have no doubt that this last installment will set us up for a wider world and a lot more seafaring, though I don’t want to give anything away.
I do recommend returning to read the prologue after fishing this novel!
Follett has a way of setting up circular stories most beautifully. From beginning to end, you can feel what is going to happen to the characters, but actually witnessing it and living it along with them is what brings the most joy. You feel their pain, frustration, their hurt and rage, and it makes you want to see the “good guys” succeed as much as you want to see the “bad guys” fall.
Follett has a knack for writing good characters as truly “good” and evil as truly “evil”. It’s this simplicity and strength of character that brings me the most joy in his stories. Each “good” character has a rock solid set of morals that they live and act by, even if it means sacrificing themselves or their own happiness for the betterment of others. Each “evil” character is truly evil, easy to despise, and incredibly villainous – it makes them incredibly satisfying to read, especially when they meet their fate.
I haven’t read Follett’s more modern era works, but I want to. I’m just so in love with living in medieval times with the Kingsbridge characters that I’m not sure I’m ready to move on.
Let me know if you have started this series or if you’re likely to!