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World Without End

Ken Follett goes back in time with ‘World Without End’

World Without End opens in the priory of a 14th-century monastery with 8-year-old Gwenda considering how she might relieve a nobleman of his purse. She also contemplates the consequences of getting caught, “the pain and humiliation of a whipping; and then, worst of all, the agony and loss as her hand was chopped off.”

Fortunately for Gwenda, she’s a better thief than her father, a laborer who is unemployable because of his own missing hand. Thanks to Gwenda’s wiliness, her family will be able to eat that winter.

Welcome to the merrie old world of Ken Follett, author of best-selling thrillers like The Key to Rebecca, Eye of the Needle and most recently Whiteout. In 1989, he set aside his customary genre to draw upon his fascination with medieval architecture for The Pillars of the Earth. Setting the story in the 12th century, Follett created a dramatic epic centered on the construction of England’s first Gothic cathedral.

In World Without End, Follett picks up the story 200 years later. The descendants of Tom the Builder, Aliena the noblewoman, and the other characters who populated ‘Pillars’ are living in the shadow of the Kingsbridge cathedral, playing roles in their own epic drama.

Gwenda, along with three other children – Caris, the child of a merchant, and Merthin and Ralph, sons of a nobleman – enter a forbidden wood the day after All Hallows Eve. They encounter a knight, and witness a violent killing and the burial of a secret letter so dangerous that the knight trades in his chain mail for the safety of monastic life.

Over the course of the next 900 fast-turning pages, the lives of these four youngsters and others unfold against a backdrop of plague, war and roiling social upheaval perpetrated by ambitious monks, naughty bishops, scheming widows and mercenary traders. One of the girls will pursue love with a prosperous peasant; another will become a nun who challenges the church’s authority. One of the boys will become a brilliant engineer and builder, and the other a corrupt nobleman.

Fans of The Pillars of the Earth who have been calling for a sequel won’t be disappointed. With all the intrigue and romance of the original, World Without End is well worth the 18-year wait.

Jane H Furse, New York Daily News, 21 October 2007