World Without End
By Ken Follett
World Without End is a sequel to Follett’s bestselling Pillars of the Earth. Set in the same fictional town, but two hundred years later in the fourteenth century, World Without End can easily be read as a stand-alone novel. With characters traveling to war-torn France in one episode, its scope is even more panoramic. At heart, though, it is a story of local conflicts: between merchants struggling to make a living and religious officials struggling to maintain power, and between the nobility and the serfs and free peasants who work the land. The latter part of the novel, about the plague and its aftermath, shows how this traumatic event subverted traditional attitudes about sex, religion and social hierarchies.
Follett makes his work friendly to readers who may have read little or no historical fiction, explaining a host of medieval customs without slowing the pace. “Next, the cook put in front of each of them a thick slice of rye bread a foot square. Gwenda picked hers up to eat it, and Caris realized she had never dined at a table before. ‘Wait,’ she said quietly, and Gwenda put the bread down again. Tutty brought in the ham on a board and a dish of cabbage. Papa took a big knife and cut slices off the ham, piling it on their bread trenchers.”
Some characters, like a nun with progressive ideas about healing, anticipate the modern world: “Perhaps they’ll stop believing in mumbo-jumbo medicine, and start thinking about what treatments actually make a difference.” 2007, 1014 pages.
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