story is set in England in the 1100`s , between the
reigns of Henry I and Henry II. A power struggle and
civil war manipulates all the characters and citizens
you meet in this book. It spans the lifetimes of the
men and women pf the book.
Ken Follett has written an excellent character driven
book. One sympathizes with these characters , some
of whom are flawed yet heroic in their own ways while
the villains are out right evil. Actually out-right
evil may be too strong a term as both Waleryn and
Regius repented in the end though out of desperateness.
Alfred , depicted as a child for much of the book
was not always outright evil , but acted as many children
act. The strong women of this book are courageous
and ingenious. The immoral men of God are complex
, in their righteousness , cowardice and deceit. The
corruption in the church rivals that of the government.
According to some brief reading I have done after
this book , it appears that Follett presents a realistic
portrayal of the times interspersed with true historical
facts , architectural truths , chronological occurences
, and actual people. St Thomas More , for example
can be found out here.
One can read this book and get a feel for the life
and times of the period. I like historical fiction
that informs as well as entertains.
Good Characters- Prior Phillip -Aliena , Jack , Tom
- Ellen - Johnathon
villains - Hamleigh (william) -- Waleryn Bigod -
Alfred - regius
I`ve often believed that environment creates the
man but this book shows that to be untrue - Alfred
brought up by a just man and loving mom - Jack , with
no human interaction, was brought up alone by a good
but not virtuously good woman Aliena , a pampered
noble daughter , becomes a strong willed woman who
makes herself many times over. Hamleigh, well you
can see the evil in the parents trickle down but he
was a lot worse than his father. Most of the families
, even those of the good characters were dysfunctional.
Johnathon , brought up in the monastery , to eventually
become prior seemed to be the only character that
reacted to his environment the way I would expect.
I feel that Waleryn was the more evil of the antagonists
, william just didn`t know better (even when he was
young attempting to woo Alliena he could only talk
of himself , think of himself only , just a real sad
sap) Whereas Waleryn , knew better , knew right from
wrong , and though he didn`t committ the murders and
atrocities himself , he set it in motion. In this
day and age he would be tried as an accessory to murder
and be guilty. A few times in the book, the author
has a character comment on Waleryn , deep down, being
pious and god-fearing. I don`t think that the author
did a good job of showing that. Yes , it was mentioned
and in the end when Waleryn became a humble monk ,
Johnathon said it again but I never saw that at all
in the book. Peter , who became arch-deacon , was
pious and believed that his way was the right way
with God. He may have been truly pious , just his
sense of direction was off. Phillip makes a great
comparison between Peter and the Pharisees in Jesus`
day. Peter had all the dogma , strictness , obedience
, self-mortification yet none of the Love , caring
, good works etc that Jesus` preached.
William Hamleigh was the embodiment of a "bully".
Selfish , cruel and singleminded , He preyed on the
weak. His "bullying" personality was so
pervasive that it even infected his sexuality, whereas
he only experienced sexual pleasure when he was hurting
or dominating an unwilling partner. In battle , yes
he had moments of courage and capable fighting , but
many battles and encounters , described his absolute
fear. This , to me is the trademark trait of a bully
, the ability to be cruel to those who cannot defend
themselves , but an absolute fear of an equal or dominant
force. I have a personal loathing towards bullies
and Willaims fear was actually appalling to behold
The prior on the other hand was honest in his fears
and bold to the last. He took on encounters , inexperienced
as he was , with courage and strength. His occasional
humility even showed his boldness , as when he dealt
with (foreign to him) politics and court ettiquette
, humbly but purposefully , and with a clear goal
in mind. He stood up to the bullies in this book fearlessly.
Even when he indeed , felt fear , as in when He stood
against the miners , or against Williams second invasion
and so on and so forth .
The book mentions Pride as a sin many times in instances
where the prior questions his own motives. Prior phillip
was guilty of pride in many ways. He often rationalized
his motives , I believe rightly. I believe God would
want men to use any ability we have been given to
its furthest extent assuming the effect is noble or
just. God may love the humble and meek, he may have
saved the "slaves" but He did not ask men
to limit themselves or limit their gain of knowledge.
He intended us to be men of free will , to live in
this world and make the most of it , eventually finding
God again , freely and willingly. If he intended us
to be puppets that mutter Gods prayers unintelligibly
back to Him, He would have shown Himself to us.
I Never really was interested in the dark ages ,
or middle ages. I have always been interested in the
greek and roman history , then the renaissance , always
skipping over the medieval time period. This book
showed me the richness of the time and inspired me
to learn more about it.
Kevin Beary 3/28/05
What amazed me more was when Jack read Euclids thirteen
books and actually gleaned information from it. I
own euclid and can`t make heads or tails of it much
less apply it practically as Jack did with construction.
I figured men of this time to be unintelligent and
misinformed. We , 900 years later , have the advance
of science and 2000 years of knowledge should by far
be more intelligent and worldly. Yet here is a man
born in 1100 , in the dark ages , who has the opportunity
to study all the great works of the past (he didn`t
but could have) and if he was intelligent enough be
alot more knowledgeable than You or I. As it was Jack
, 900 years ago , was by far smarter than I will ever
be. I find that fact amazing. I always felt superior
to men of that time but have been shown differently.