Monday, September 11, 2017

A Column of Fire (Kingsbridge, #3) by Ken Follett

What does one do when given the opportunity to read Ken Follett's latest novel a few weeks before it is released by the publisher--and it's 928 pages?  

READ EVERY CHANCE YOU GET.  That's what I did, and managed to read this in a week on my Nook.  I even snuck in a few short reading breaks for a few other books I'm reading, too.  I finished last night, and had to take some time to absorb the spectacle of Ken Follett and Elizabethan England. This was an emotional journey all wrapped up in a wonderfully written novel.  

If you've ever read Mr. Follett's Pillars of the Earth, or World Without End, you know they are set in Kingsbridge, a fictional town in England that has a spectacular cathedral at the center of town.  The cool bit about the books is that they take place hundreds of years apart, so you can read each one without reading the others.  Each stands alone.  While you might be a bit apprehensive of the size (this book clocks in at 928 pages), I assure you it is well worth the effort.  It's the perfect book for a chilly evening because it's so weighty you quite happily sit for hours with it propped up on your lap. And, of course, a glass of wine at your side. 

Ken Follett's gift is his ability to make history come alive, and in such a way that you don't even realize how big his books are--pages speed by, and you'll find yourself reading 100-200 pages every evening; sometimes more if you've got the time.  His characters, both actual historical figures and fictional figures, are so well drawn that you'll become attached and your heart will leap when they're in danger, and cheer when things go right for them. The tale begins in 1558 and ends in 1620.  Who survives to the end?

So let's talk about the plot.  It begins in 1558, with a young Ned Willard sailing home to Kingsbridge after a year abroad.  He's eager to meet Margery Fitzgerald, a lovely young woman from a wealthy Catholic family in Kingsbridge. He hopes she hasn't forgotten him, because he's madly in love with her and hopes to marry her.  It would be a very good match--Ned's family is a prosperous one that has known the Fitzgerald family for years.  

Ned and Margery's hope for a future together is destroyed by her father and brother Rollo's ambitions: to be linked to the Viscount Shiring family through Margery's marriage to young Bart. Ambition and ruthlessness rule their world.  

The Fitzgeralds are a conniving family, and fervent Catholics.  Queen Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary) is a staunch Catholic and has been arresting and burning Protestants in England.  This is just the beginning of the decades long bloody struggle between Catholics and Protestants, not only in England, but in France, Spain, and the Netherlands.  The major players:  Queen Mary, Princess Elizabeth, and Mary, Queen of Scots (and eventual Queen of France); the Pope and King Philip of Spain are just part of the multiple story lines that weave themselves into one big glorious tale that begins in 1558 and ends in 1620.  

There are some devious, evil men that keep the story moving along across England, France, and Spain.  Pierre, a French man determined to rise through the ranks of the French monarchy is one of the biggest creeps around!  At first he's kind of charming, if smarmy, but he quickly progresses into a Catholic spy for the powerful Catholics, using his charm to gather information on Protestants who are worshipping in secret.  He's truly loathsome.  Rollo is another nasty man; his world eventually collides with Pierre's as they join forces to topple the fragile religious tolerance Queen Elizabeth has forged in England.  They won't rest until Mary, Queen of Scots is on the throne of England as the true and rightful heir.  

Oh, it's a mess.  Spies, treachery, murder, forbidden passion, betrayal...machinations every which way.  While I didn't know a lot about the struggle between Catholics and Protestants, I certainly got an education reading this novel.  Religious intolerance is a huge theme throughout the novel. That, and the belief by some people that Elizabeth was not the true heir to the English throne propel the plot through decades of bloodshed and political unrest.  

Argh!  I could go on and on.  I haven't even told you about some of the other characters that populate this epic tale.  Sylvie, for one--this woman is tough as nails and willing to risk her life every day for her beliefs.  She's one of my favorite characters in the novel.  Margery is also a tough cookie; she takes the cards she's dealt and makes a life that works for her.  "Nevertheless, she persisted" is so applicable to these two women--as well as the other strong women who make their mark in so many big and small ways.  You will root for the good guys, and be really pissed at the bad guys.  If anything, you'll have a better understanding of the complexities that fueled the upheavals of the sixteenth century.  Toss in the thrilling battle between the English Navy and the Spanish Armada, and you've got a fantastic read for September.  

A HUGE thank you to Viking Books for the opportunity to read and review A Column of Fire.  This made my year.  

Available September 12th in the United States in hardcover, ebook, and audio book.  

Rating:  6/6 for one amazing read.  Wow. 


  1. My husband and I both loved Pillars of the Earth. I have not read the other two in the series but someday I will. I can recommend Margaret George's Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles for more about her side of the story.

  2. I loved Pillars of the Earth, one of my all-time favorite books. I have no idea why I haven't read the second. I just saw a video presented by Mr. Follett on this new book just this very morning! I think I will be catching up on this series soon.
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
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