First review of 2011 is for the novel, "World Without End" by Ken Follet. It is, essentially, a sequel to his earlier historical fiction novel, "Pillars of the Earth." I say, essentially, because events in "World" take place more than 100 years after "Pillars." We meet descendants of the characters from the earlier novel, it takes place in the same town/cathedral, and some knowledge of the first book certainly helps flesh out the enjoyment of the second. That being said, it isn't really necessary to read the first to understand everything that happens in the second; most references to earlier characters/events are fully explained.
I first read "Pillars" shortly after it came out in the early 90's. It was one of the last novels I read, I remember, while living in Massachusetts, before moving to Ohio. It was also one of the first historical fiction novels I'd ever read and really enjoyed. Since then, I've read quite a bit in the genre, and, to some degree, I owe that enjoyment to "Pillars."
Neither books is particularly deep. And that's OK. They are, instead, very entertaining and (to some degree) educational. Follet had done quite a bit of research into medieval life, and it's very interesting to observe his characters motivations and reactions during a time that is much, much different than our own. That being said, some of the characters seem to benefit from a bit more "modern feeling" than perhaps they ought. We, as 21st century readers, have certain sensibilities, and the main, sympathetic characters tend to share more of these with us than do the villains.
Which doesn't distract from the pleasure. No spoilers here, but, as in "Pillar," Follet sets up a series of lifelong actions for the main characters, some of which won't come to fruition for decades. The interwoven plot lines and character developments are, as always in his work, logical, interesting and, often, tragic.
If you enjoyed "Pillars," you will certainly enjoy "World." I re-read "Pillars" before reading this new novel, anticipating that it would be more of a standard sequel. I'm glad I did... but not because it helped with the second book. It was simply a fun re-read.
If I have any complain about "World Without End," it's the title; "Pillars of the Earth" meant something within that story. If there is a deeper meaning in the title of this second book, it escapes me.
Fun grade: A-.
Serious grade: B.
Note: since this is my first review, I'll explain my grading system. First of all, I like letter grades. We grew up with them, and it simply makes sense to me.
Everything I review will get two grades: a fun grade, and a serious grade. My brother, John, and I used to refer to these, for movies, as the "flick" and "film" grades. You can go see a movie that is a great, entertaining flick ("Zombieland"), but that isn't really in any way an important or interesting film; there's no "meta" there. In contrast, you can see a movie that is very stimulating from an artistic perspective ("The Seventh Seal"), but that is about as much fun to see as orthopedic surgery.
Thus, two grades for everything. That way, if you're looking for a "serious" read, you can ignore the "fun" grade, and vice versa. Hopefully that's more useful to you.