Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, September 15, 2014

Enjoying Ken Follett's triple play of The Century

The historical fiction field is a rather expansive canvas to work on yet, Ken Follett has managed to make his portraits of certain places in time stand out strong on the book shelves.

 After the success of his two fictional forays into England during the Middle Ages(Pillars of the Earth and World Without End), his current conquest of the genre covers a vast playing field of characters in more than one country as well as more than one generation.

 The Century Trilogy began with Fall of Giants, that introduces us to folks such as Earl Fitzherbert,whose ownership of coal mines in a Welsh town draws two members of the Williams family into his circle most unexpectedly. Ethel Williams winds up leaving her loved ones due to being pregnant by the Earl while her brother Billy finds himself in military regiments with the Earl as World War I is soon under way.

 The Earl's sister Maud is more of a free thinker than her brother and breaks away from the expected socialite routine both openly and secretly, as her relationship with Walter Von Ulrich, a reluctant participant in Germany's approach to war, becomes a risky matter for each of them.

 Fitzherbert's wife, Bea, a Russian princess, has earned the ire of a pair of brothers from her home country, Lev and Grigori Peshov, one of whom has fled to America while the other remains and becomes part of the Revolution lead by Lenin. What's interesting about this story is not just the engaging way that history is being presented here(although it does enlighten you about the complexities that went into WWI before,during and after) but the solid set of people behind the scenes, particularly the women.

 For example, Maud Fitzherbert and Ethel Williams,who were once employer and servant, become equals as they both find themselves working side by side for such causes as women's rights and an end to the war.

Their interest in the latter has a strong personal connection with Ethel concerned for her brother while Maud has to pretend that she is unattached despite all the while being secretly bound to Walter, a secret that Ethel does play a small yet pivot role in.

When these ladies do have a serious disagreement that affects their friendship, it is over politics rather any personal drama and yet, they both respect each other despite that upset. That relationship showcases the changing times as well as depicts a pair of strong women holding up under the pressure of such a major event as the raging war that threatens their loved ones:

I truly liked Fall of Giants and those ladies so much that I was happy to see them reunited in Winter of the World, which lands them both in Germany as the Nazi party is starting to come into power.

They're concerned for their countries as well as their children, with Maud's daughter Carla being witness to the cruelties of the Brown shirts while Ethel's son Lloyd is more than willing to fight the encroaching evil.

 The children of other characters will also be drawn into the oncoming global conflict, including the American and Russian descendants of the Peshov brothers. I am still early into WOTW(waited for the paperback edition, which just came out at the end of summer) but eager to read on and see just how WWII impacts the younger set of characters along with the older ones. I suspect that when it comes to Carla, she will strike an impressive blow against the forces of darkness that are not only engulfing her nation but many others along the way:

Fortunately, I don't have to wait for Edge of Eternity, the final installment of this trilogy as a review copy happily came my way(a full review of that book will arrive later this season). The novel hits the stores this week, so many folks should be thrilled to get this great big gift read as soon as may be.

The story lines here touch upon the American Civil Rights movement, the growing Cold War in Russia and the divided Germany, as East Berlin school teacher Rebecca Hoffman discovers that her husband Hans is a covert spy who has been tracking her movements for years.

The Cold War aspects of the book promise to be extra intriguing,given the current state of affairs in that part of the world right now. Funny how history repeats itself but luckily, we have smartly written books that remind us of just that. I am looking forward to meeting Rebecca,along with the other characters in EOE, to see if she is capable of raising the bar that her ancestors have set in the previous volumes:

Even if you haven't read any of the Century Trilogy, this is a perfect time to start. Fall does lend itself to taking up historical fiction and since it will still be some time before the new season of Downton Abbey begins, these massively engaging novels are not just the right cup of tea, they're a whole set of splendid brews to savor.

I do hope that Follett's Century novels are adapted for TV miniseries, as both Pillars of the Earth and World Without End did very nicely in that format(plus Starz is fast becoming a rising star in that department).

It would be grand to have such vivid characters come to life onscreen and introduce a potential new set of readers into this new look at old world history into the bargain. We shall see, but at least we still have Ken Follett's marvelous works to appreciate as time goes by:


Thaddeus said...

I hadn't heard of any of these novels, but you lay out the story and characters so nicely and efficiently! I am interested now, though my back-reading is perilously long...

lady t said...

I am all too familiar with the book pile backlog,my friend but at least two of these books are paperback, so they won't topple any literary towers you may have:)

Thanks, Thaddeus and if you have any reading recommendations for me, please feel free to share!