Ken Follett is widely renowned and hugely respected as a craftsman of historical epics. As a bestselling novelist, he ranks up there with Wilbur Smith, Tom Clancy, Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer. Though he is arguably best-known for his historical trilogies, he has also written several successful thrillers.
Legions of fans esteem him highly for his intensive research and his ability to transport readers into some of history’s most fascinating and complex periods. Now he’s back with his first new novel in three years: a prequel to fan-favourite, The Pillars of the Earth. Here we’ll be taking a quick look at his biggest series, stopping of along the way for a couple of reviews.
… But first.
A fistful of facts about our author:
- Follett reportedly spends a full year researching each of his historical novels, and then sends his first draft (which can take another year to write) to be checked by historians for veracity. Talk about commitment!
- Follett has a passion for cathedrals… a passion which informed and inspired his most beloved work, The Pillars on the Earth.
- Several of his novels are titled with direct reference to the bible… which is apt given that the emergence of contemporary Christianity, and all the bloodshed and upheaval it spawned, is a notable feature of the Kingsbridge Series.
- Follett was not allowed to watch television as a kid… draw your own conclusions.
- Follett’s worldwide sales are said to approximate 160 million copies, give or take.
The Kingsbridge Series
Beginning with The Pillars of the Earth and concluding with A Column of Fire – and now The Evening and The Morning – The Kingsbridge Series tracks the ambitions and tribulations of a small English village as they attempt to construct a cathedral, navigate The Anarchy (a vicious civil war that resulted in the almost complete breakdown of law and order) and, eventually, the Black Death. The series begins in the 10th century and stretches all the way into the days of Elizabeth I, spanning many of the era’s most traumatic events and, of course, injecting occasional romance, frequent antagonism and scheming, and authentic humanity throughout. It’s a singularly immersive quartet that illuminates and entertains in equal measure, an epic masterpiece that covers, in its own way, all of life’s most profound experiences.
First Book: The Evening and the Morning (2020)
Though it is the most recent addition to the series, this is the first book chronologically.
Ending just as The Pillars of the Earth begins, The Evening and The Morning introduces us to an England on the verge of a new age. But the final years of The Dark Ages pass with tyranny, conflict and brutality. England faces constant threats from both East and West, and in this turmoil those with power wield it without conscience. With no real ruler, the land descends into anarchy and the only laws that matter are might, blood and chaos.
As the country struggles to repair its gaping wounds, three characters, each with ambitions both humble and grand, emerge in a way that will echo through the ages. A determined monk dreams of a future in which his humble abbey might become a towering beacon of European learning and enlightenment ; a boatwright whose life is torn apart by a devastating Viking raid looks to forge a new future for himself and the one he loves from the bones and ashes of constant strife; a Norman noblewoman finds herself in a new and inconceivable life when she crosses the sea with her beloved husband. The loving and committed hopes of these three individuals will bring each of them into conflict with a powerful new bishop, who will stop at nothing to spread his influence and achieve a stranglehold on the ensuing days.
As masterful as anything that Follett has yet crafted, The Evening and The Morning is an immense page-turner… an examination of the heights to which both good and evil can climb, swathed in viciousness and savagery just as surely as hope and nobility.
Final Book: A Column of Fire
In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love.
Ned Willard wants nothing more than to marry Margery Fitzgerald. But when the lovers find themselves on opposing sides of the religious conflict dividing the country, Ned goes to work for Princess Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, all Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch sets up the country’s first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions, and invasion plans. Over a turbulent half century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. Elizabeth clings to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents.
The real enemies, then as now, are not the rival religions. The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else—no matter what the cost.
Set during one of the most turbulent and revolutionary times in history, A Column of Fire is one of Follett’s most exciting and ambitious works yet.
The Century Trilogy
This equally lauded series also takes its readers into the heart of history, but the events of The Century Trilogy do not belong to quite so distant a past. Concerning the fates of five interlinked families who hail from Germany, America, Wales, England and Russia, the trilogy moves from WWI and the Russian Revolution, through to Women’s Suffrage, The Spanish Civil War, WWII, The Civil Rights Movement, The Cold War and finally post WWII Britain… taking in some of the 20th century’s most defining, tumultuous and earth-shattering happenings.
Ambitious in scope and utterly compelling in execution, this trilogy concerns many of the world’s most impactful social, political, economic and bellicose developments. However, far from reading like an academic history – though, as always, Follett brings a wealth of research and context to his tales – it also manages to be a sequence of deeply humane stories, never shying from polarised perspectives and always keen to populate this grand theatre with authentic and relatable characters whose concerns and experiences can be just as intimate as they can be unwieldy.
These are just a few, but Follett has in fact published 44 books throughout his illustrious career. For a comprehensive look at his impressive output, check out https://ken-follett.com/.
Bet you haven’t read them all!