I love historical epics. There is something about getting drawn into a family’s story across generations that I find captivating. One of my favorite authors, and a master of historical epics, is Ken Follett. Whether it’s about a the construction of a cathedral in the mid-12th century or a World War, Follett is a master story teller who makes 900 pages feel like they aren’t enough.
I was first introduced to Follett when Pillars of the Earth was recommended to me (by whom, I cannot remember) and within days of starting it I had finished all 800+ pages. More recently I have read the first two books in his Century Trilogy: Fall of Giants and Winter of the World. The Century Trilogy follows 5 families (English, American, German, Russian and Welsh) through the 20th century. The second book follows the children of the characters of the first, and I would guess the third will follow their children. Both of these novels I also finished in days (at 900+ pages each) and I CANNOT WAIT for the third installment (come on fall 2014!). I would rank Fall of Giants and Winter of the World as two of my favorite books of all time. My 2013 reading challenge lists also includes World Without End, the sequel to Pillars of the Earth, and I have no doubt I will enjoy it also.
Follett’s character development is exceptional and he creates a full cast of engaging characters. None of the characters are perfect, making them all the more human and relatable. Because of the nature of historical epics, you follow his characters for a significant period of their lives, and therefore learn what events and experiences have influenced them and watch them develop and grow.
Folletts books are also fast-paced, page turners. You feel as if you are in the story, which can be disturbing since the Century Trilogy takes place during the World Wars. The characters and families woven together in an expert tapestry and fit perfectly into the political events of the time. Follett leaves no detail un-researched in his novels: the events, dates, historical figures, and political turmoil of the times are accurate and skilfully told.
My only complaint about Folletts’s novels is that I sometimes get confused because of the sheer number of characters. Luckily Follett provides a handy list in the front of each book outlining the characters, families and their locations!
I finished Winter of the World, which takes place during the Depression, World War 2 and the early Cold War, only a couple of weeks ago and am still amazed at the effect it had. It is one of those books that you think about for days after finishing. Specifically, it made me think about war and the sacrifice of soldiers. An entire generation risked their lives in World War 2 to preserve our freedom, many fighting on soil that was not their own. Sometimes war is greater than one country and fighting on foreign soil is in the best interests of everyone (as seen by spread of Nazism). I think it is important to never forget what our soldiers did and still do. Just because one is fighting for the freedom of another country, does not mean it is not in everyone’s best interests. I think we forget this sometimes, especially as a generation who has not experienced a World War.
For a novel to have such a profound impact and make me think about life in such a manner, Follett has clearly done his job as an author. I would highly recommend any of Follett’s historical epics (I have never read his spy novels) to anyone and everyone!