Tuesday, September 9, 2008

World Without End

Ken Follet, 1014 pp.

World Without End was one of (if not the most) anticipated novels of 2007. It is a sequel to Ken Follett's extremely popular novel, The Pillars of the Earth, debuting in 1989. After greedily flipping through all 1014 pages, I can truly say that this masterpiece was worth the wait. The suspenseful plot of this book revolves primarily around the lives of four characters, first united as children. The children are first adjoined when they witness the pursuit of a knight in the forest, which subsequently results in a bloody altercation and the disclosure of the location of a secret letter to one of the children. From there, the plot takes off as all four of the characters pursue different walks of life in Ken Follett's epic portrayal of 14th century England.

Although all aspects of the novel were superb, the paramount strength is Follett's characterization. Naturally, a reader would expect to know the characters very well in such a lengthy novel, but Follett takes it a step further. By the midpoint of the novel you have such an intimate connection with the characters that you find yourself feeling as though you can foretell their responses and sentiments towards the plot unravelling around them. This intense characterization will also grip your emotions as the characters you love endure hardship and triumph. The bond resulting from Follet's extremely in-depth characterization is what makes a thousand-page novel revolving around a fictional town with a cathedral in it so absorbing that you will surely lose sleep.

One draw of World Without End, relative to its predecessor, is that it incorporates a historical and medical phenomenon; the black plague. The inclusion of the plague appealed to me as a pre-medical student, and I suspect would also attract readers who enjoy the historical fiction genre. An important struggle in the treatment of the disease is the practical application of medicine vs. the scholarly aspect of medicine which focuses on humors and bleeding the patients. Additionally, the reader is exposed to the feudal system, and all the exploitive abilities of those near the top of the hierarchy. Another feature of the novel is the intense romantic scenes that Follett depicts. He has a way of expressing intimacy that would be graphic if it were not so utterly elegant. Through his inclusion of intimate scenes, he paints a full picture of loving encounters in addition to sexual exploitation and the status quo of gender roles.  The bottom line is that the setting alone is reason enough to indulge in World Without End.

Coming from a science fiction background did not hinder my enjoyment of this novel in any respect. Science fiction is most enjoyable to me because it takes you to a different and fascinating place. In that respect, I draw many similarities between a well developed piece of historical fiction such as World Without End and a depictive work of science fiction. The commonality is the manner in which they both take the reader to a place with unique regulating factors and let a story unfold. Although the novel is principally set in a town with politics revolving around a cathedral, the rivalry for power, political manipulation, scandal, and treachery will satiate your inner savage.

As far as I'm concerned, World Without End is a must read. Enjoying this novel is not contingent on having read The Pillars of the Earth, but when you have finished, I guarantee you will want to. Do not let the 1014 pages daunt you, there is absolutely nothing mundane about this work. Whether you waited 18 years for it or not, you will not want World Without End to end.


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