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The 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.
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14689c.htm 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 for me.
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.
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.

Kevin Beary 3/28/05




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