I haven’t done a quick review on a book for a while, but it hasn’t been because I wasn’t reading. I’ve actually been re-reading two of my favorite books by Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End . I’m a big historical fiction guy, and historical fiction doesn’t get much better than these two. They are excellent and educational reading – the latter begin one of the main reasons I like historical fiction. I know more about medieval life and building cathedrals than I ever thought I would after reading these two.
But that’s not the book I’m reviewing now. I mention them because the response of the literary community to Follett’s release of the above books was “shock and surprise”. I guess that is because they quite different from the spy/thrillers that he had written before. The response couldn’t have been because they didn’t think Follett had it in him, because clearly he does.
So Fall of Giants should come as no surprise. It’s a great read and masterfully done -- exactly the kind of book I love to read – sweeping epic tales of five different families from five very different places and backgrounds that interrelate with each other as they are “swept up” in the tumultuous events in Europe before, during and after the First World War. Along the way you see familiar events unfold – the Russian Revolution, the Battles at Marne and Somme, and something I wasn’t really aware of, the direct military support of the Russian White army after the end of the “Great War”. The characters are richly drawn and the cross paths with real historical characters like Woodrow Wilson, Lenin, Trotsky, and David Lloyd George. Along the way we see coal miners struggle for better working conditions, women fight for the vote, and the Russians overthrow the Tsar.
Follett clearly has moved beyond being a “mere” suspense novelist, and I for one am very happy about that. Fall of Giants is the first in a trilogy, with the second book covering the Depression and The Second World War, and the third dealing with the Cold War. I for one am anxiously awaiting the next book in the series, due in 2012.