This is the second sequel to Follett's epic novel,The Pillars of the Earth, which became a big bestseller long before it was chosen as an Oprah Book Club selection,not to mention a miniseries on Starz. The second book,World Without End, was also adapted into a made for cable miniseries and with any luck, this one will join them as well.
I've been reading ACOF,slowly but surely(it is a lengthy book,after all) and have been pleased to find that much like the earlier novels, there is plenty to savor and a trio of solid themes that link from one point in time to another:
In the current novel, the cathedral has been partly underused,due to Henry the VIII's reign and several of the abandoned parts of the building were pledged as collateral for a loan made by Alicia Willard, with hopes that she and her sons Ned and Barney could turn them into a viable marketplace for all of the local merchants to prosper with.
Unfortunately, that deal was broken by the Fitzgerald family(with help from the current bishop) and the Willards have no choice but to find another way to make their fortune,particularly Ned. Time and again, the cathedral has played a vital part in the fate of others and forced many characters to chose between it and their true desires:
Much like Caris, Margery Fitzgerald is being forced to marry a local noble man by her social climbing family,including her ambitious brother Rollo. While she would infinitely prefer to be with Ned Willard,who has been deeply in love with her for years, pressure from both her relatives and religion induce her to accept this unwanted engagement.
Will Ned and Margery find a way to be together, despite their changing fortunes and the matters of faith that divide them? Well, we shall see but if past performance is any indication, I think that true love will win out, one way or another:
In ACOF, the reign of "Bloody" Mary Tudor is near it's end, causing the once downtrodden Catholics to take harsh revenge against their formerly in power Protestant neighbors. When it becomes clear that Princess Elizabeth has the best chance to take the throne upon her sister's death, many quickly take sides both for and against her.
With his family fortunes spiraling downward, Ned Willard takes up an offer to join forces with Sir William Cecil(and late Francis Walshingham) as protectors of Elizabeth, who must fight against the Catholic forces aligned against her. That doesn't hold well with Margery, as her faith is what lead her to marry against her wishes yet she still holds firm to her beliefs.
The clash of religions in this time period did have a widespread effect that is keenly felt among the characters in ACOF and as Follett also gives us insight into some of the more regal players here, that perspective will be fully enhanced for all involved,including the reader:
With things as they are today, it's good to have a bit of history or historical fiction to look to for some comfort in that hard times can and will be dealt with for the better in the end. I know that the Kingsbridge novels are ultimately meant to be entertainment and yes, they are thumping good reads indeed.
However, in this day and age of prevalent uncertainty, something like a grand epic story from a steadfast storyteller such as Ken Follett does offer a good bit of relief and good reading in a weary world: