Tuesday, 4 December 2007

World Without End by Ken Follett

Macmillan

ON THE cusp of the Middle Ages and the modern world, Ken Follett's characters don't know how radical a change is happening.

Four children see the biggest secret of the 14th century: a merchant's daughter, a knight's two sons and the daughter of a thief.

World Without End follows them through an era that makes the last century in Ireland seem dull.

The boys, of course, want to be knights like their father - little knowing that the age of knighthood is ending, and that of merchant power coming into flower.

The Black Death is about to sweep across Europe, cutting the population by one-third and shattering a social system that had endured since the time of the Romans.

Follett's characters are engaging: Merthin, the knight's son who becomes a genius of architecture; Caris, laughed out of it when she says she wants to be a doctor, as if she were a man; Gwenda the honourable thief; Ralph the bully.

When the town's bridge crashes down, church, guilds and nobles are set at odds over the costs and profit of rebuilding, and whether to hire the brilliant dismissed apprentice or his stupid master for the job.

Follett's story twists and turns delightfully with great plots and subplots. At over 1,100 pages, you're going to need wrist guards, because it's hard to put this down.

Follett has avoided the "I spake truth, my liege" kind of clich├ęd writing, and these are people you believe in - yet his gritty descriptions of the bestial norms of medieval life are absolutely telling.

It's a book to make a noble put his sabaton through a stained-glass window.

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