Once in a while, a book comes along with a great many pages. One would imagine that these hundreds of pages would feature the tales of a great many people and a great many things. But we have already seen a few books that tell us the story of a very few people but in nothing less than a few hundred pages. (Have you heard of The Order of the Phoenix, IT or A Dance With Dragons?) A Column of Fire is much the same. Very few characters but a great many historic events, plot twists, and one great book with all of it! Some 900 pages and I might have skipped less than half a dozen of them. Ken Follett is indeed a master at work.
A Column of Fire is a standalone read but also the third part of the Kingsbridge series. The first of the series was The Pillars of the Earth, followed by World Without End. And I must add here that A Column of Fire has the minimum number of pages of the three. All three books revolve around a place called Kingsbridge, and their stories are centuries apart. A Column of Fire is a tale that happens in the time period 1558-1620. The book starts off at a time when being Protestant was a death warrant and ends at a time with an apparent modicum of religious co-existence. It does not matter that it was about 500 years ago; we still seem to be maintaining that stance and not getting better with practice.
Ken Follett is a master at writing historical fiction, he throws in his characters and real-life historical personalities into the book and we get a good history lesson in the mix. A Column of Fire is a lot many things, a romance, a historical, a mild thriller, and a political insight as well. Here we have the romance of Ned Willard and Margery Fitzgerald, a constant thing through the length of the book. The Willards and the Fitzgeralds and their many differences, business and religious, keep Ned and Margery apart. When they come together, it was not much of surprise. I must admit to the romance being very sober and bland. But I think it does get compensated for by all the plotting and the treachery involved.
A Column of Fire is an interesting read if you are interested in reading historical or thrillers. It does combine both, but I will not venture to say it is a gripping novel. The sheer volume will put most readers off. The pace of the book is average; there were instances when I wanted to push a character to just walk faster. What I really loved was the politics – the undercurrents, the thoughts and the decisions. These are abundant and the acuity of historical figures (both famous and otherwise), is rendered in brilliant clarity. Politics and decision making that happened in a room in a faraway castle, trickle down to affect those in Kingsbridge as well.
One would think that being a small town, there would be a sense of community. But religious difference plays a part and the divide is never more evident than when a new monarch takes over. Even when there is trouble at their doors, their differences keep them apart. The most wondrous plots are weaved when the author introduces the spies. Information is available to all those who seek it but then it is never free of cost. What do people do to get this information, why do they do it – all these questions have more than adequate answers in A Column of Fire.
If I were to surmise, I would say that A Column of Fire is a book with a good storyline, intriguing plot twists, and excellent writing. It is in no way a light read or a fast one. You may be spending a week or more with this one. If you do not mind the joy of a meanderingly slow read, this one is for you.
You can find a copy here – Amazon.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars