Top positive review
Chaos and Evil do not stop the building of the Kingsbridge Cathedral!
Reviewed in the United States on May 12, 2018
The Welsh author, Ken Follett, has written a tome about the building of a cathedral in the imaginary village of Kingsbridge, England, in the 1100s. He stipulates that he is not a believer and that his ambivalence about writing this historical novel lasted for years. However, at some point in his life, he became enamoured of and obsessed with cathedrals, and visited many of them prior to putting words to paper. The novel occurs within the context of ecclesiastical versus imperial power, as well as during the Civil War between King Stephen and the empress Maud. This setting is similar to the situation during which the Brother Cadfael novels occur.
As mentioned in the title and the comment above, the overarching them of the book is the decades-long building of a cathedral at the Kingsbridge Priory, amidst much corruption, political manipulation, slaughter, and evil aimed at Prior Philip's Benedictine monastery. However, Follett has created a novel that possesses stories within stories within the primary theme. In it, we meet some of the most loving, if sometimes eccentric, people, along with destructive, power-seeking, and envious ecclesiastical and political figures. Follett does not spare anyone her or his weaknesses and faults, including the most significant protagonists. Nor does he cease to decry the sheer brutality of Earl William and Bishop Waleran Bigod, the primate of Kingsbridge.
The author creates a cast of many protagonists as well as antagonists who are central to creating destructive challenges for the Prior to build the cathedral. Church corruption is made clear, as is the use of political people and men-at-arms to effect the plans of Bigod to destroy Philip. Follett has clearly done considerable research, and blends historical persons with fictional characters very well.
At times, I thought the author could begin to tie up the narrative but he elected to create yet one catastrophe after another. In the beginning of the novel, the writing could be described as simplistic, but it evened off later into a respectable and engrossing narrative. If one is interested in Medieval history, the role of Church and State during this era, and a plethora of characters, plots, and subplots, this book is recommended. One gets a sense of monastic living, the lives of serfs and peasants, and the overall life of clerics in this work. In addition, the age-old themes of good and evil underlie all the dynamics in the story.