Readux: World Without End

Title: World Without End

Author: Ken Follett

Published: 2008; Penguin

Genre: Historical Fiction

Date Started: August 16, 2012 Date Finished: October 2, 2012

Worthy of Note: World Without End is a kind-of sequel to Pillars of the Earth, taking place about two hundred years later in the same town, Kingsbridge, during the Hundred Years’ War and the plague. The World Without End miniseries started a few weeks ago, and you can watch previous episodes on the Showcase website. The first few episodes were, let’s say, artistically incongruent with the novel, but they’ve certainly picked up since then.

Your integrity is like a sword, he would say: you shouldn’t wave it until you’re about to put it to the test.

Anyone who has heard me talk about this book over the past few weeks can attest to the fact that this is going to descend into a rant pretty quickly, so I will start by saying some nice things.

1.) Hello, everyone! Sorry I was gone for so long. My time/patience/writing/editing/sanity were eaten up by my Master’s application in September. It’s been a few weeks since then, but they were uneventful weeks and I didn’t need to bore you with work, home, scribble, repeat.

2.) I loved Pillars of the Earth. The book, the show, re-watching the show on DVD five times. It was all the awesome.

Thus concludes the “nice things” portion of this post.

I was really excited to read World Without End, since its predecessor was so amazing. And though I expected that there would be some similarities – cathedral-building angst, bad monks, etc. – I didn’t think there would be quite so many.

Brilliant builder-character? Check. Strong-willed, self-made woman? Check. The face of selfish ambition dressed in church robes? Check. Violent lord whose ascent up the social ladder is covered in the blood of the innocent? Check.

“Come now, Amanda,” you might now be saying to yourself. “Those are practically tropes for historical fiction.”

Does the brilliant builder hero fall for the strong-willed heroine? Yup. Does the heroine end up swearing herself to someone else, causing the brilliant builder to head off to continental Europe to bring his superior French/Italian building knowledge back home to England? You betcha. Does the face of selfish ambition dressed in church robes manage to get everything he wants, making everyone question if there is a God? Mhm. Does the violent lord whose ascent up the social ladder is covered in the blood of the innocent marry an inappropriately young girl and abuse her to within an inch of her life? He sure does. Does that girl seek sanctuary at Kingsbridge cathedral? Ohmigawd, how did you know?! And that massive plot point of the plague? Didn’t show up until two-thirds of the way through.

This book was a bad facsimile of Pillars of the Earth, made even worse by the fact that it was written by the same person! Ken Follett made the amazing characters I fell in love with the first time around – Tom Builder, Prior Phillip, Jack Jackson, Aliena – and then just jumbled them around for a bit, made them less awesome, and put them in pretty much the same book. Oh, sorry, World Without End is different because it has nuns.

Merthin Bridger, while being the brilliant builder hero, just can’t compare to Tom and Jack. Even the villians, Prior Godwyn and Lord Ralph, can’t quite stand up to what terrible people/compelling bad guys Bishop Waleran and Lord William were.

Maybe if I hadn’t read Pillars of the Earth, I would’ve been more impressed. Or if World Without End had been written by someone else, I could have at least said, “Well that was clearly a rip-off of Ken Follett.” But World Without End was too clearly Ken Follett ripping off himself, and that is just too much betrayal of my beloved memories of Pillars of the Earth. 

Quite frankly, I’m glad I’m done reading it. Though, as long as it continues to get better, I’m going to keep watching the miniseries.  The magnificent sets and battles are still selling it for me, and the actor who plays Lord Ralph Fitzgerald (aka violent lord whose ascent up the social ladder is covered in the blood of the innocent) is quite impressive. Let’s hope any future artistic inconguencies are for the better.

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