July 16, 2010

World Without End

World Without End by Ken Follett
Historical Fiction
2007 Penguin Audio; Unabridged Edition
Reader: John Lee
Finished on 6/9/10
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

Product Description:

On the day after Halloween, in the year 1327, four children slip away from the cathedral city of Kingsbridge. They are a thief, a bully, a boy genius and a girl who wants to be a doctor. In the forest they see two men killed.

In 1989, Ken Follett astonished the literary world with The Pillars of the Earth, a sweeping epic novel set in twelfth-century England that centered on the building of a cathedral and the men, women and children whose lives it changed forever. Critics were overwhelmed--"it will hold you, fascinate, surround you" (Chicago Tribune)--and readers ever since have hoped for a sequel.

And at last it is here. Although the two novels may be read in any order, 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.

As adults, their lives will be braided together by ambition, love, greed and revenge. They will see prosperity and famine, plague and war. One boy will travel the world but come home in the end; the other will be a powerful, corrupt nobleman. One girl will defy the might of the medieval church; the other will pursue an impossible love. And always they will live under the long shadow of the unexplained killing they witnessed on that fateful childhood day.

The Pillars of the Earth was "a novel that entertains, instructs and satisfies on a grand scale," said Publishers Weekly. "With this book, Follett risks all and comes out a clear winner." And now he has done it again. Three years in the writing, World Without End once again shows that Ken Follett is a masterful author writing at the top of his craft.

And about the reader:

John Lee gives a breathtaking performance of Follett's sequel to Pillars of the Earth. Two hundred years have passed, and fourteenth-century Kingsbridge is now a prosperous town, with its cathedral and priory still a central force. As the novel follows its four main characters from 1327 to 1361, medieval English life is slowly and thoroughly revealed. Lee gives stunning portraits of change-resistant churchmen, the hardships and superstitions of peasant life, the inequities of corrupt noblemen, and the grotesqueries of the Black Death. While creating wholly credible major and minor characters, Lee delivers Follett's intricate plots and subplots, making each detail fascinating, from medieval medicine and bridge-building to the surprisingly powerful role of women. Even after 36 CDs, listeners will be sorry to see this book end.

Can I just say Wow?!!!

This was one of the most enjoyable audio books I have ever listened to. Maybe even the very best. I was completely enraptured with Follett's epic follow-up to The Pillars of the Earth, and as the above description states, yes, I was very sorry to hear this book end. As I listened to the last chapter and heard the final words, a wave of sadness washed over me. I'd been captivated by this grand story for over six weeks and I would have been perfectly content to listen for another six. I kept telling my husband how much I was enjoying the audio, but that I was glad I owned a copy of the hardcover so I could actually read it someday. (He gave it to me for Christmas more than three years ago!) This is one of those great books that draws you in from the opening pages and never once lets up or lags. Pretty amazing, for a 36-disc audio (and a 1000+ page hardcover). The richly painted details of life in a medieval village and the intricate descriptions of the craftsmanship involved in the building of a bridge or priory held my attention just as in The Pillars of the Earth. I've read several of Follett's earlier works, but these two epic tales are by far my favorite.

It's been over seven years since I read The Pillars of the Earth, and now I'm thinking I should get it on audio! In my 2003 reading journal, I wrote the following:

Group read for TheBookSpot (Yahoo group)
Superb character development. Excellent sense of time and place. Got bored here and there, but overall I thought it was a very good read. A bit repetitious. Could've used a little more editing. If you enjoyed Pope Joan, this one's for you! Took 3 weeks to read.
Rating: A- (8/10 Very Good)

I wonder if Follett has any plans to continue with this storyline. Just as The Pillars of the Earth's Prior Phillip, Tom Builder, Ellen, Jack and Ailiena worked their way into my consciousness, I came to care about Caris, Gwenda, Merthin, and Wulfric and missed hearing about their challenges and plights after I finished listening to World Without End. Follett not only creates gripping tales that keep the reader engaged chapter after chapter, but he peoples them with such fully developed and memorable characters that one has to remind oneself that they are simply that: characters, not real people.

On medieval life for a woman:

Caris stared at the closed door. A woman's life was a house of closed doors: she could not be an apprentice, she could not study at the university, she could not be a priest or a physician, or shoot a bow or fight with a sword, and she could not marry without submitting herself to the tyranny of her husband.

John Lee is an outstanding reader. It took me a little while to get all the characters straight in my mind, but once I could envision their individual roles in Kingsbridge, whether a monk, nun, nobleman or peasant, I never once had to stop and wonder who was speaking. I should mention that this is not an audio you'd want to listen to with young children nearby. There are quite a few sexual scenes throughout the novel and the language and details are fairly explicit.

Final Thoughts: If there's ever going to be a third book about Kingsbridge, I hope it doesn't take Mr. Follett another 18 years to write! That said, Follett fans have a new trilogy to look forward to! From his website:

Fall of Giants, the first novel in my 'Century' trilogy, will be published in 14 countries simultaneously on September 28, 2010. In Fall of Giants, I follow the destinies of five interrelated families – one American, one Russian, one German, one English and one Welsh – through the earth-shaking events of the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

The second book in the ' Century' series, set to be published in 2012, will feature the children of the characters in Fall of Giants as they live through the Depression and the Second World War. The third book, due out in 2014, will be about the next generation during the Cold War.

I. Can't. Wait!


  1. High Praise; sounds awesome. I am looking forward to Fall of Giants - september by Follett.

  2. Anonymous6:26 AM

    I think I listened to PILLARS OF THE EARTH many years ago on audio. I loved it. Did you know that they are doing a TV adaptation of PILLARS? Not sure what network. Hope they don't ruin it.

    Glad you liked this one so much. It is quite a time commitment isn't it?

  3. I really enjoyed reading Pillars a couple of years ago (staying up in the wee hours because I couldn't put it down). Didja know they are turning it into a mini series? It premiers next Friday either on Starz or Showtime (I forget).

  4. I *will* finish this book sometime this year! I loved Pillars but the size of World overwhelms me! You've inspired me.

  5. I have the first book and I so need to get that one done. I'm buying an iTouch next weekend and would love to be able to download book 2 and listen to it, especially with that kind of recommendation!!!

  6. My family raved about Pillars of the Earth when it first came out, and I tried but I couldn't get into it. Recently I found that I was getting interested in it, and I bought a copy and it's on my TBR mountain now :-) That's the lovely thing about books, they wait for us and we can pick them up any time. Now I know there's a sequel that's equally as good....thanks so much for reviewing the book, I know this is the audio, the story is the same and now I'm getting eager to read them! this was an excellent review :-)

  7. Pillars of the Earth and World without End are two of my all-time favorites. The Pillars miniseries begins July 23rd on the Stars network. Unfortunately, we don't subscribe to Stars, but will be able to watch it later through Netflix. Thanks for the information about the Century trilogy. I'll be watching for it. Annie

  8. Diane - I'm still thinking about the characters. It's one that will stay with me forever. I, too, am looking forward to Fall of Giants!

    Kay - Yes, I knew about the tv production. I'll probably get it on Netflix when it goes to DVD. I hope they don't ruin it, either!!

    And, yes, it was a huge commitment to listen to, but it never felt too long or plodding.

    Christina - See my note above to Kay about the tv series. I plan to watch it, but not until it hits dvd.

    Tammy - It's quite a chunkster, isn't it?! But it's such a fascinating story. I think listening to the audio was the way to go for me. I was definitely overwhelmed by the size of the actual book!

    Staci - It was so enjoyable! I plan to eventually listen to the first in this series when I'm ready for a good long audio book.

    Susan - Honestly, you can read either one. They don't have to be read in order. Hope you enjoy both!

    Annie Joy - Isn't he a wonderful writer?! These are such entertaining and educational novels. I was completely transported into Medieval times.

    Like you, I'll wait for Netflix to get the series. I hope they did a nice job...

  9. One of these days I'll get around to reading this. I loved Pillars of the Earth and have read it three times over the years. I may have to consider the audio version based on your recommendation.

    His new one sounds wonderful too!

    We've watched the first two weeks of the Pillars TV mini-series. It's doesn't have the production quality of The Tudors, but they did a fabulous job of casting all the major roles. People really do look like they did in my head. It's hard to condense such a book into a screenplay but as The Hubster said last night - as some of the scenes play out they are a lot like what I imagined as I was reading the book.

    I don't love the tv adaptation, but it's worth watching (at least so far).

  10. OK, your post was the tipping point that made me add The Pillars of the Earth to my library hold list!

    I've never read anything by him, but the descriptions remind me of Edward Rutherford's books, several of which I read and enjoyed years ago. Have you read any of his books and would you say the comparison is apt?

    I expect now that there is a miniseries we'll be getting a lot of people coming in and asking for it.

  11. SuziQ - Wow! 3 times?! You must be a fan. You definitely have to read/listen to this one. It's fabulous. And, yes, his new one sounds great, too.

    I haven't watched The Tudors, so I'll be less inclined to compare the quality, but I'm so glad to hear the casting is well done. I'll still wait for the dvd set on Netflix. It's actually available for streaming, but we'd have to watch it on our computer. I can wait. As far as condensing the plot, I've forgotten so much about the book, I probably wouldn't notice. ;)

    Lesley - Get it!!! I've read Sarum by Rutherford and thought this was just as good. Yep, we're getting a lot of people showing interest in Pillars now that the show is out. Happy reading to you. :)

  12. You've convinced me I need to read this book SOON. I loved Pillars of the Earth...and bought this one when it first came out...but it is sitting still unread on my shelf. Got to remedy that soon!!

  13. Wendy - Yes, you do! I had my copy for such a long time. Even though I listened to the book, I know I'll go back and re-read the printed book sometime in the future.

  14. Anonymous3:22 AM

    Previous Ken Follett books have covered such vast terrains the next book Fall of Giants will also likely leave me tired, but can't control myself, have to read it

  15. Anonymous - I know I'm looking forward to it! Not sure if I'll read or listen to it, though. Guess it depends on if I can get the audio at the library.


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