Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The Pillars of the Earth

Ken Follett

Pan MacMillan

1076 pages



I wasn’t going to write a full review of The Pillars of the Earth. I was just going to write a mini review alongside another historical fiction, Regeneration, but I had so many thoughts while reading it that I just had to in the end.

And I didn’t think it was fair to rant about this in the same review as one of my favourite books.

Summary: Set in the turbulent times of twelfth-century England when civil war, famine, religious strife and battles over royal succession tore lives and families apart, The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the building of a magnificent cathedral.

Against this richly imagined backdrop, filled with intrigue and treachery, Ken Follett draws the reader irresistibly into a wonderful epic of family drama, violent conflict and unswerving ambition. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, the dreams, labours and loves of his characters come vividly to life. The Pillars of the Earth is, without doubt, a masterpiece – and has proved to be one of the most popular books of our time.


Total Reading Time: 10h 48

Reading Speed p/h: 99.5

Most Pages Read in a Day: 200

Most Minutes Read in a Day: 124

I didn’t hate this book at first. In the beginning I was actually quite enjoying it. Then, about half way through, my enjoyment levels started going down and around three quarters of the way through I was actively wishing almost everyone would die. Then I read part six and I calmed down somewhat.

The Pillars of the Earth is centred around the building of a cathedral and the people who are involved in it. The story itself isn’t bad. It’s too long but I can tell Follett wanted to write an epic novel so in that regards it works. There’s also some conspiracy, lots of rape so if that’s something that turns you off you definitely won’t like it, and lots of death and disaster.

The writing also isn’t bad. Follett doesn’t talk down to his audience or try to make this book any more than it is, which is basically a kitchen sink drama set during the Anarchy period in the 1100s. It’s also nice to read a book set in medieval England which focuses on ordinary people instead of kings and nobles.

Now, let’s talk about my main issue with this novel: the characters.

Follett either can’t write subtle characterisation or he just wants to hammer his point home. Everyone is just so one dimensional. The characters are either good, and therefore must suffer in order for us to sympathise with with them and like them when they eventually overcome their burdens, or bad, therefore we must absolutely hate them. The bad guys might as well be wearing black hats and twirling their moustaches because they are evil. Unfortunately, it just led me to resent every character.


Except Jonathan. He is a precious sweetheart and the only character I didn’t end up hating.

The worst offender is Jack. You’re supposed to like him but I ended up absolutely detesting him. He’s too perfect. In order for you to like him, Follett keeps piling obstacles to his happiness in his way. Jack has to be bullied as a child so you feel sorry for him. He needs an antagonist against him so therefore Alfred had to be an absolute dick of a character. He can’t have any positive aspects to his character because that would detract from Jack. Jack has to come up with all the solutions, he has to be a master builder at twenty. He’s so brave and loyal and, oh my god, I hate him. He keeps throwing childish temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his own way which we’re supposed to agree with him on but it only served to make me dislike him more.

And then there’s William, who is a complete sadist and a psychopath. He also has no positive character traits and only exists to be an evil person and to cause problems for the residents of Kingsbridge. When Follett needs a moment of conflict, out comes William to destroy something. It’s all rather tedious.

The ending wasn’t as bad. It ends with Thomas Becket’s murder and that was done well but it wasn’t enough to save the previous five hundred pages of me wanting to kill someone, mostly Jack. Follett just couldn’t save the book from being awful in the end.


2 thoughts on “Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

  1. I read this (and the follow-up, World Without End) a very long time ago and remember enjoying them, but I was purely into them for the history and the spectacle. I don’t remember a single thing about the characters, which speaks to your comments about them being one-dimensional.

    Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

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