Almost one thousand pages later, and I still want to read the sequel. The Pillars of the Earth surpassed my expectations and left me greedy for more.
The sequel started everything, really. I found the sequel, World Without End, on my porch when I forgot to cancel a main selection through my book club. I was pumped to read it, as its description brought to mind a world in the manner of Tolkien and Shannara, but with a little more historical truth and a little less fantasy. I wasn't too keen on reading the sequel before the original, so I got The Pillars of the Earth and started in on what I thought was going to be elves, fairies, and princesses.
Actually, it had no fantasy elements at all (unless... does witchcraft count? I don't think so, especially for the middle ages). ANYWAY, I was way off.
In fact, it was much more rooted in historical fiction, channeling the lives of real, medieval persons, and creating a story that was so epic, so entertaining, and so satisfying, that one really wanted to imagine that the secondary and tertiary characters existed alongside their historical counterparts.
The Pillars of the Earth is about the planning and construction of a great cathedral. And it's fiction. You might be thinking, "Wow, that sounds absolutely fascinating! Where can I find a copy of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz." But listen! I am telling you that this book is amazingly interesting, with extremely well-developed characters, absolutely fantastic villains, and inspired prose.
The story has a huge cast of characters, but it focuses on the life of Phillip, a man raised in a monastery after his parents are brutally murdered before his eyes. He and his brother both become monks and lead lives of piety and solitude, and seem to enjoy their stations on Earth. Phillip is a beautifully complex character, steadfast in his love for Christ and the Church, and determined to do what's right, but eventually realizing that shrewdness can make the difference between a thriving community and a dying parish. Phillip becomes entangled in major political intrigue and his loyalty to the Church cannot save him from the law of the land, especially when the throne is up for grabs and allegiances mean everything.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book. I see that the mighty Oprah selected it for her book club a while back, and I have to agree with her choice. I can imagine people of many different backgrounds and enjoying this book, regardless of their individual beliefs. It's mainly a book about the relationships between people and the ways in which freedoms were denied or extinguished based on the time of birth, social class, and, of course, whether you were male or female, but above that, it's a tale of good versus evil. It's delicious.
I've recently discovered that this tale is to be made into a mini-series, and after sneaking a peak at the cast, I am BEYOND excited for its telecast. There are some excellent actors and actresses on hand, and it is going to be SO RAD.