As a new age dawns in England's twelfth century, the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral sets the stage for a story of intrigue and power, revenge and betrayal.
With this book, Follett risks all and comes out a clear winner, escaping the narrow genre of suspense thrillers to take credit for a historical novel of gripping readability, authentic atmosphere and detail and memorable characterization. Set in 12th-century England, the narrative concerns the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The ambitions of three men merge, conflict and collide through four decades during which social and political upheaval and the internal politics of the church affect the progress of the cathedral and the fortunes of the protagonists. The insightful portrayals of an idealistic master builder, a pious, dogmatic but compassionate prior and an unscrupulous, ruthless bishop are balanced by those of a trio of independent, resourceful women (one of them quite loathesome) who can stand on their own as memorable characters in any genre. Beginning with a mystery that casts its shadow on ensuing events, the narrative is a seesaw of tension in which circumstances change with shocking but true-to-life unpredictability. Follett's impeccable pacing builds suspense in a balanced narrative that offers action, intrigue, violence and passion as well as the step-by-step description of an edifice rising in slow stages, its progress tied to the vicissitudes of fortune and the permutations of evolving architectural style. Follett's depiction of the precarious balance of power between monarchy and religion in the Middle Ages, and of the effects of social upheavals and the forces of nature (storms, famines) on political events; his ability to convey the fine points of architecture so that the cathedral becomes clearly visualized in the reader's mind; and above all, his portrayals of the enduring human emotions of ambition, greed, bravery, dedication, revenge and love, result in a highly engrossing narrative. Manipulating a complex plot in which the characters interact against a broad canvas of medieval life, Follett has written a novel that entertains, instructs and satisfies on a grand scale.