World Without End by Ken Follett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Set two centuries after Pillars of the Earth, the people of Kingsbridge are at it again. The cathedral built in Pillars is in disrepair after part of the roof caved in, the bridge collapsed, and the prior is dead. Also, the constant maneuvering continues...
So, I fell into a trap with this one. After devouring Dinocalypse Now in a morning, my girlfriend asked if I managed to read an entire book in four hours. I said I had and she slammed me with this, saying it shouldn't take me more than a few days. Sighing, before I knew it, I was engrossed and asking her if Ralph was going to be the asshole rapist bully in this one. I still hate that Will Hamleigh!
Much like Pillars of the Earth, World Without End follows the lives of a number of characters; Merthin the carpenter, his brother Ralph the squire, a poor girl named Gwenda, Wulfric the laborer, Godwyn the monk, and several others. As I predicted, Ralph was the asshole rapist of the book. What a nun mugger that guy was!
As with Pillars of the Earth, twists abound and the 14th century is not a good place to be a woman. Hell, it doesn't sound like that great of a place to be a man either, but the women get the short end of the stick for the most part. There's just as much scheming as in the first book and just as many people making decisions that would later bite them in the ass.
While World Without End happens years later, it very much picks up the style and flavor of The Pillars of the Earth. So much that it's very nearly the same book with slightly different characters. As near as I can tell, Follett's master plot generator goes something like this:
1. Things are going good
2. A problem arises
3. Problem solved, leading to unforeseen results
4. Goto 1
It's still a fun read that messes with your emotions but some of the magic is gone once you catch the rhythm of the plot. Kind of like how M. Night Shyamalan's movies aren't as fun once you start trying to figure out what the big twist is going to be as soon as the movie starts. It was exhausting to read at times, not because of the prose, which is breezy and accessible, but because of plot twists every 6.5 pages. It doesn't really build toward anything besides the next iteration of the good guys getting screwed over and the bad guys having good things happen to them.
Since it's hard to review a book of this size without revealing too much, here are some closing points:
1. The late 1300's were just as rape-y as the 1100's of the first book.
2. I wanted to smack Merthin silly. Then again, we men tend to do stupid things when sex is on the table. Or bed, floor, car hood, etc...
3. Godwyn, though one of the good guys at the beginning, is still a tool.
4. Accusing women of being a witch is some serious shit.
5. Ken Follett and George R.R. Martin both went to the school of screwing over characters as much as possible.
6. Getting flayed would suck.
7. The blurb mentions the Black Death but it doesn't make an appearance until after the halfway mark.
8. Every time someone mentioned the bishop, I thought of a certain Monty Python sketch.
9. My favorite line was "Sleeping next to her was like lying with a dead cow."
Three stars. I think I'm Folletted out for the time being.