3. A Dangerous Fortune (1993)
Intrigued by the Barings Bank going bust, Follett wanted to capture the dramatic tension of the moment in which the wealthy Victorian grandees realized that all their money had gone, situation that becomes the center of his novel. A Dangerous Fortune has an innovating element aside from his previous novels. It`s full of suspense and plot twists at each corner and it`s rather more about murder, than money.
In addition to that, we`re introduced, for the very first time, to the first female villain, sexy, domineering and unscrupulous. The story begins at a prestigious English academy, with a bunch of schoolboys going for a swim at the quarry pool. Little did they know however, that this escapade will prove fatal to one of them, namely Peter Middleton, who drowns.
As it is expected, the whole story is covered up, but the murder of Peter sets the stage for almost 3 decades of deceit. As the characters involved progress through their lives and careers, the events surrounding the murder always draw them back together, some trying to cover their tracks, while others trying desperately to find out the true story behind it all.
Peter`s death causes a bonding between Edward, Micky and Augusta who spend the next 30 years perpetuating one lie after another to hide the original murder and to achieve their goals. Edward will struggle to get control of one of the largest and most powerful banks of the world, Pilasters. Micky wrangles his way into the elite English society, being capable of doing everything needed in order to aid his father. Augusta`s only goals are social standing and wealth.
This is contemporary pulp fiction at its best. Follett gives us an insight into the naughty world of merchant bankers. He did a good job evoking the feel of that period, highlighting the subterfuge and manipulation of major banking companies. The pages will seem to troll by quickly, making the hard really hard to put down.
2. Fall of Giants (2010)
Fall of Giants is a magnificent historical novel entangling the fates of five interrelated families, and their survival through the world-shaking dramas of the First World War and the Russian Revolution. Follett brilliantly sews together the lives of his characters, casually moving from Washington to St. Petersburg, from the dangerous coal mine to the glittering ballroom of a palace. What he describes is no stranger to us, but his passionate writing style turns what we thought we knew into something that will never appear the same again.
It`s hard to imagine linking so many different historical aspects together, but nonetheless Follett does a remarkable job in capturing the key moments of world history at this point. He describes the rise of the Bolsheviks as a plot of the German to conquer Russian resistance on the eastern front, the rise of women’s rights in Britain, the considerable differences in social status of the miners and the owner of the mines, the misery and suffering of a soldier`s life in the trenches. The novel revolves around the struggle of common people throwing off the chains of oppression that the society dominated by aristocracy places on them. It is an epic of love, hatred, war and revolution.
The Novel Begins
With a quick insight into Billy Williams` life, only 13 years old and starting his work in the coal mines. The main story begins 3 years after this moment, on the day of King George V`s coronation. Edward Fitzherbert, owner of the land on which the coal mine is built, is throwing a party for his important and powerful guests from around the world. Setting political differences aside, life gets even more complicated when love finds its place in everyone`s lives, thus bringing the 5 families together.
The Williams and the Fitzherberts oscillate between romance and enmity; Lady Maud Fitzherbert, Edward`s sister, falls in love with Walter von Ulrich, a German spy; and two orphaned Russian brothers who carry a deep grudge against the Russian royal family. With both his thriller writing skills and his even greater talent for historical fiction, Follett is at his best.
While more negative reviews chose to comment on the element of coincidence in the novel, as it is unlikely that the very same 5 families keep crossing paths while moving through the most important events of the 2 decades, it`s this specific element that adds spice to the novel, and bottom line, it`s probably only the battle scenes that will be exhausting to read through.
1. The Pillars of the Earth (1989)
The Pillars of the Earth is without a doubt Ken Follett`s most successful novel, but how many fans are aware of what a controversy this book started? When Follett decided he`ll put his interest in cathedrals to good use, both his friends and the publishers were a bit nervous, if not shocked by his decision. He had been quite successful with his thrillers, so you can imagine how confused people around him were when he decided he would write about the building of a church. However, his instincts proved right and 3 years and 3 months later, Pillars of the Earth became the book that turned him into a legend.
As difficult as he found it, to write almost 40,000 words about the same characters, he managed to rise to the task and gave us one of the best historical novels of our times. The action is set in the town of Kingsbridge, in the middle of the 12th century, a time of civil war, religious struggle and the worst of all, famine. A simple goal, such as the building of a cathedral, throws everyone`s lives into a rollercoaster of emotions and events as they fight for what they believe into and for what they want.
Tom is a master builder, who, when his current work project was halted, finds himself forced to take his family and move out in search of new jobs. He and his family settle down in Kingsbridge, where the prior hires him to build a new cathedral on the grounds of the old one, but when his wife dies in childbirth, his life takes a turn for the complicated.
Philip was a leader of a monastery cell when his brother came to visit him bringing both “good” news and an orphan baby he happened to come across on his path. The news about a plot against the new king, spoken to the right ears, bring Philip a promotion as the prior of Kingsbridge. Once settled in, he decides to expand his priory by building a new cathedral, and he hires Tom for the job.
After her father is arrested
Aliena is the daughter of Earl Bartholomew. After her father is arrested under charges of treason, she and her brother Richard are dispossessed of their status, causing her to bear a strong hatred towards William Hamleigh. She later on falls in love with Jack Jackson, their relationship forming one of the most important plots of the novel, as they struggle to beat the odds and be together.
After his Father was killed, Jack is trained by Tom and becomes a very talented sculptor who, having travelled to France and Spain, returns home with the skills to build the very first Gothic Cathedral in England.
Given everything that happens in the book, despair and misery all over, the predominant impression the book leaves you is that of hope. The novel is most complex and Follett had done massive research in order to capture the middle ages atmosphere, but above all, what gives this book strength are his characters, that are so magnificently sketched that they become almost real. It`s the characters that chose not to give up in front of hardship, and at the end they are triumphant.
There is also a mini TV series called : The Pillars of the Earth