Tuesday, December 4, 2007

111. World Without End


by Ken Follett
Rated 5 Stars

Every once in a while, like in a Blue Moon maybe, a book comes along that is clearly way out ahead of most other books.

World Without End takes place in the same town of Kingsbridge, two centuries after the townspeople finished building the exquisite Gothic cathedral that was at the heart of The Pillars of the Earth. The cathedral and the priory are again at the center of a web of love and hate, greed and pride, ambition and revenge, but this sequel stands on its own. This time the men and women of an extraordinary cast of characters find themselves at a crossroad of new ideas--about medicine, commerce, architecture, and justice. In a world where proponents of the old ways fiercely battle those with progressive minds, the intrigue and tension quickly reach a boiling point against the devastating backdrop of the greatest natural disaster ever to strike the human race--the Black Death.

I went over to Amazon and looked closely at the reviews and noted that of 104 reviewers, 53% had given it 5 stars and 18 four stars. Obviously this is a love it or hate it kind of book.

There are a couple of things I think might be the reason for the bad reviews. One thing is that Folett is not primarily a historical fiction writer and a great many of his books have been thrillers. So his writing style tends to be pretty gritty. Also, while there is a strong love story (and a couple of minor ones) running through this book it is not a romance novel. It's the story of a 14th century community in a cathedral market town and at times his vision of 14 century life makes me a little uncomfortable. Plausible, but still a little uncomfortable. Especially what passed for justice and fairness.

I caught myself being sympathetic to be baddies in the book simply because it seemed to me that the only way someone of the "lower classes" might improve their circumstances was with either brawn and hopefully a few brains thrown in.Luck played a huge part in this and I found I couldn't really blame some of the characters who seized any and every opportunity that came their way, fair means or fowl. In fact, there is one female character who has, IMO, a definite Claire Frazer attitude towards survival.

One of the reviewers noted that Charis was a feminist and therefore out of place in the 14th century. Obviously this reviewer had never read anything about Eleanor of Aquitaine to name just one because there are many. She came immediately to mind because she is a particular favorite of mine. I think this reviewer was not much of a reader. Also there was a small incidence of lesbianism and as we all know the slightest whiff of anything homosexual drives the homophobes into an orgasmic frenzy.
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