The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet

The Pillars of the Earth is Game of Thrones, only take out the dragons and add in Medieval Christianity. The story is based in a small Priory in England called Kingsbridge, and the effort to build a massive cathedral there. The world-building of the book, as well as the setting are what reminds me of a George R.R. Martin novel, along with some very gruesome, stomach-turning violence. The characters make no choices without cause and I was totally spell-bound in the intricacies of the plot.

The story begins with the sinking of White Ship, a true event in 1120 AD in which 300 people died, including the heir to the English throne. The event launched England into a decades-long civil war that affected everyone across the county and across the class-system. It is within this setting that we meet our characters: a devout priest, a builder whose life’s goal is to build a cathedral, a headstrong Earl’s daughter, and many other characters whose lives all enter-twine in the world of Kingsbridge.

The Game of Thrones comparison is not only only for the intricate world building and cunning characters all vying for power, the book (penned in 1989) also contains gruesome violence, much of it against women, that is likely off-putting for some readers. Although I’m sure a case could be made that the depiction is accurate for the Medieval time, others may argue that the themes of sexism and gratuitous violence detract from the the story-line. Wherever you fall, The Pillars of the Earth is an epic tome that is a great recommendation for those wishing to emerge themselves in an ancient world with historical tie-ins that truly make the story come to life.

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