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It is 997 CE, the end of the Dark Ages. England is facing attacks from the Welsh in the west and the Vikings in the east. Those in power bend justice according to their will, regardless of ordinary people and often in conflict with the king. Without a clear rule of law, chaos reigns.
In these turbulent times, three characters find their lives intertwined. A young boatbuilder’s life is turned upside down when the only home he’s ever known is raided by Vikings, forcing him and his family to move and start their lives anew in a small hamlet where he does not fit in. . . .
A Norman noblewoman marries for love, following her husband across the sea to a new land, but the customs of her husband’s homeland are shockingly different, and as she begins to realize that everyone around her is engaged in a constant, brutal battle for power, it becomes clear that a single misstep could be catastrophic. . . .
A monk dreams of transforming his humble abbey into a center of learning that will be admired throughout Europe. And each in turn comes into dangerous conflict with a clever and ruthless bishop who will do anything to increase his wealth and power.
It took a while to be pulled into this story, but once I was – I was in for the over 900 pages! The novel follows the stories of three main characters and how their lives cross, and there’s a slew of other characters in England from 997 CE to 1007. This was a chaotic time filled with violence and power struggles over land and other riches.
The power of men vs men, men vs the church, men vs their king, men vs women, slavery, the has and the have nots, deceit, violence, brutal punishments, lies, love, lust, religion, revenge, strong and weak characters – phew! It’s all here, but so is the power of decency, family, of love.
Edgar, from a family of shipbuilders, survives with some of his family from a vicious attack by the Vikings who ravage and burn their village, including their home, their lumber, and the ship they were building.
They become farmers in order to survive, and Edgar eventually becomes a builder. Lady Ragnhild, “with the wonderful red hair”, of a noble Norman family feels fortunate to escape an arranged marriage to someone she doesn’t love, by marrying an Englishman, who she loves and believes loves her. Aldred, the monk collects books and wants to expand learning and build a church.
The story is complex at times with twists of fate that change things frequently and the plot centers on these characters and how they manage the events in their lives.
Having read The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, there were things in this novel that gave me a few aha moments even though it’s been quite some time since I read them. I still have yet to read the third book in the trilogy and reading the prequel has made me want to read it for sure.
The conversations at times felt oddly too modern, but there’s no doubt that Follett excels at making history so accessible through his captivating characters and storytelling. A fabulous escape for me, all leading up to how Dreng’s Ferry became the Kingsbridge that we come to know in The Pillars of the Earth. Recommended for fans of the series.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Macmillan through Edelweiss.