World Without End is the story of several families in fourteenth century Kingsbridge, and a continuation of Pillars of the Earth. Pillars was about how the cathedral came to be; World Without End details the crumbling of medieval society as the town of Kingsbridge and its citizens witness the plague and the Hundred Years' War. Most of the characters are descended from Tom Builder's daughter, Martha.
Central to the plot are Caris, a young woman who enters the nunnery after an accusation of witchcraft; Merthin, who builds Kingsbridge's new bridge; his brother Ralph, who becomes a knight and has somewhat of a cruel streak; Godwin, the ambitious prior of Kingsbridge, who will let nothing stand in his way; Wulfric, a serf; and Gwenda, his wife.
The book has its good and bad points. Among the good: Ken Follett has a flair for detail, and he describes things with absolute precision. He's especially good with battle scenes, as in the scene where he describes the Battle of Crecy. Follett also does a fantastic job in drawing some of his characters, especially those of Godwin and Merthin.
The bad: Follett's adolescent-like fascination with sex. Some of the sex scenes are crude and laughable at times. Also, his characters seem almost too modern. Its one thing to use modern language, so that the average reader will understand the story better, but its another to make women and men of the fourteenth century do, say, and think things that wouldn't be typical of the period. Also, I thought Ralph's character was a little bit of a caricature. But in all, this book was an impressive effort, and a worthy sequel to Pillars of the Earth. I'd love it if Follett wrote another sequel, one that took place in the sixteenth century; it would be interesting to see how Kingsbridge Priory survives--or doesn't--the Reformation of King Henry VIII.
Also reviewed by: Maw Books