Ken Follett’s gripping, and extremely detailed historical epic, The Pillars of the Earth, takes place in England during the twelfth century. The backdrop is the continuous battle for the English throne between King Stephen and the Empress Maud. Tom Builder, a poor mason, insists on following his dream of building a cathedral. Times are hard and jobs are rare—he ends up starving and freezing with his family in the forest. His wife dries from childbirth and, unable to feed his newborn son, is forced to leave his infant son to die on top of the mother’s grave. Unbeknownst to him, the crying baby is rescued by a monk who brings him to his monastery. Enter the evil Hamleigh family aided by the corrupt Bishop Waleran, the beautiful and independent Aliena who is raped by her suitor, and Jack Jackson, the talented master-builder who finds a way to fulfill Tom’s dream, and the great page-turning saga begins.
This story takes place during the era in England when Church and state walked hand-in hand to govern the land and its people. Priests and churchmen were often corrupt because of the power they had. Women were second-class citizens no matter what class they were in. But in the midst of all the cruelty, the betrayals and the injustice, we find moral, passionate characters that confront the status quo, i.e. Prior Philip, Tom Builder, Aliena, Ellen, Jack Jackson, to name a few. These characters follow their dreams and refuse to give up no matter how bleak their future appears. It is because of these characters that this brilliant epic is such a great and memorable read.