World Without End is described on its cover as “The magnificent sequel to The Pillars of the Earth”. Magnificent might not be adjective I’d use… Addicitive, compelling, gripping, maybe. But a number of elements prevent me from finding it “magnificent”. For sure, the author demonstrates a great talent in writing an impressive historical novel that follows characters over more than half a century.
We meet Caris and Merthin, the main characters, as they are not even teenagers. Their destinies will soon be tied to Thomas’s, Gwenda’s and Ralph’s lives as they involuntarily take part in a tragic event. Numerous other characters will come and go, bring hope and despair, and I can only marvel at Follett’s mastery of his characters, whom we very easily become familiar with.
And yet.. The depiction of female characters is one of my main issues with World Without End: although it features strong, independent characters, women’s bodies are often oversexualised without any reason. One of the main characters’ worst nightmares? The love of his life might have become fat… How terrible! Thus, women’s achievements are often pushed into the background, behind their sexual desires and desirability.
Like The Pillars of the Earth, I also found this second book a little bit too long, the author summarising his story in the last hundred pages, giving us information we already had… I have to confess that my judgement is biased, as I generally prefer shorter books under 600 pages – still, Wolrd Without End could probably have been 50 or 100 pages shorter.
However, I cannot deny how enthralling this novel is, a real page turner! Readers have no time to be bored, plot twists come the ones after the others (sometimes at the risk of losing credibility, although that thin line is never really crossed), and the characters are well developed. The annoying emphasis on sexuality set aside, the action is rich and varied, with descriptions of buildings and architectural techniques that prove fascinating, although I normally have no particular interest in this field …
World Without End is a great way to dive into the European Middle Ages, spend time with incredible, annoying, charming, revolting characters, travel with them through wars, love, friendships, family affairs and business struggles. I will have to read some shorter books and take a break from Kingsbridge before picking up A Colum of Fire, but I might well read it in the future!
What’s more, even though World Without End is a sequel, it can also be read as a standalone: a few references are made to The Pillars of the Earth, but nothing really important that would hamper your understanding of the second novel.
About the book
Author: Ken Follet
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication year: 2008