I thoroughly enjoyed Ken Follett's epics, "Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End". Though they are hefty tomes, the pages flew. Thus I jumped at the chance to read and review Follett's latest epic, "Fall of Giants" which promises to be the first in The Century Trilogy. When it arrived from Amazon at ~1000 pages and 4 inches thick, I found myself contemplating one of the advantages of having a slim Kindel (I don't). When the thing comes out in hardback in September it could be used a murder weapon!
But we all know that size doesn't matter when you've got an expert storyteller weaving an enthralling tale. I became so engrossed that I'd look up and 100 pages would have flown by. What is it that makes Follett so consistently "readable"? In "Fall of Giants" it's because the book is so well researched about the period (early 20th century especially WWI) with information on coal mining, trade unions, women's suffrage, protocols and manners of the minor royalty, politics, government, revolution and war. The story flows from this rich period but the riveting characters are at the forefront. Even the largely unsympathetic characters, such as the Earl, are made at least understandable because Follett thoughtfully portrays their motivations. There are few totally good or evil characters here, as it should be. (Though Follett seems none too fond of Russians and priests - be they Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox!)
In past reviews I have criticized authors that I believe would benefit from more editing (e.g., Steven King, John Irving) so why don't I find Follett's book to be too long? Because there are no slow spots, no political point pushing, and no self-indulgent purple prose.
I learned a great deal about WWI reading this novel, what led up to it and how it set the stage for WWII, which I hope is the subject of the next volume. It was fascinating to read about how the media and the governments of all the countries involved, lied to their people about how bad it was.
One other thing that I believe readers should know going in: as mentioned, this is Part One of a promised trilogy but, like "Pillars" and "World" it is a stand-alone novel. The reader is not left gripping a cliff at the end. I recently very much enjoyed Connie Willis' "Blackout" which DOES end with a cliff hanger and I am glad I knew that going in; some readers didn't and felt cheated. You will not feel at all cheated at the end of "Fall of Giants". Enjoy!
This is a fantastic epic, the first in a planned trilogy by the author of The Pillars of the Earth (now a miniseries) and World Without End. I simply raced through the pages, unable to put this book down even though it was a hefty nearly 1000 pages.
The story moves seamlessly and logically, starting in 1911 and ending in 1925, and has a large cast of characters -- all so beautifully developed that the reader comes to care about each one -- the good and the bad. A helpful CAST OF CHARACTERS is provided at the beginning of the book that may be copied and used as reference, but it is really not needed as the reader is introduced to each and they are so memorable that it's easy to keep them straight. The families are American, English, Scottish, French, German and Austrian, Russian, and Welsh. There are Lords and Ladies, Dukes and Duchesses, Kings, Queens, Earls, Dukes -- even the servants, miners, and other assorted people populate this work of fiction. The author has also inserted real historical figures into the story, and their interaction with Follett's characters is very well done.
Book one of the CENTURY TRILOGY is set in Europe before, during and after World War I. From a mining town in Aberowen, South Wales, to the drawing rooms of the privileged aristocracy in Russia, Britain, Germany, and to the War Room in the White House of Woodrow Wilson -- the narrative captivates as it tells the tale of the people involved in the conflict and their lives during this period of change in the world.
The story is intriguing and complex, but eminently readable. The violence and gore that were present in Follett's previous works is absent here, and the action is fast and the storytelling fantastic. I have a fondness for historical fiction, and this work does not disappoint as the author has obviously thoroughly researched the era and has rendered it beautifully.
I won't provide a detailed synopsis of this book since the product description on this page does that, but will say that it's a drama about life and love during these fateful years and I promise you that this will go down as being one of the best books you've ever read.
I cannot recommend it highly enough and can't wait for the sequel! This book, however, has a very satisfying conclusion and can stand alone as you are not left with unanswered questions at the end! Historical fiction at its best.
When Ken Follett's Fall of Giants arrived I was stunned at the size of the book. Nearly a thousand pages were before me. Then I wondered why I was surprised. We're talking Ken Follett here. Regardless of size, Follett's books are imminently readable and Fall of Giants is no different. Perhaps the most amazing fact is that Fall of Giants is simply the first installment of a promised Century trilogy. Amazing, but not surprising. I can't wait.
The story revolves around five European families from 1911 to 1925. This period of time encompasses the First World War. The period of late the Victorian Age was a time when society was rigid with "manners". The upper classes new their place and weren't shy about letting everyone else know their place as well. If the code of conduct was firmly set for the upper classes and royalty, so was it set for the lower classes as well! If you were a member of the "working" class you knew who your "betters" were and behaved accordingly. Life was hard and took its toll on the masses. Follett does a masterful job at describing the world as it existed at that time and he spends a good deal of time examining the class struggle which went on in much of Europe during this time.
His characters are so numerous that he provides an index of them at the book. In most cases he provides us with clear descriptions of those who inhabit his fictional world. I can only assume that character development will continue in the two additional books we are promised. I thought this was a strong point in Pillars of the Earth.
The Fall of Giants is a sweeping novel not because of the time period it covers, only 14 years, but because of the story he is telling and because of the era in which it happens.
Of all the authors I have read over the years it is James A. Michener that I remember most fondly. His stories are so complete that after finishing one you really felt as though you had accomplished something. You also learned because of reading them. The Source really gives one the sense of the complexities in the Holy Land. Texas, Poland, and Centennial, and others, not only told a story that entertained, but also taught the reader something. Ken Follett is, in many ways, the same. You will be much richer after reading Fall of Giants.
I don't even think the length of the book is a negative. I suspect that a competent editor could have found a way to pare down the size. But some stories just take a while to tell. Cutting is always an option, but only so much "fat" can be cut before you're into the meat, and this book is meaty.
Try reading Fall of Giants, I think you'll be glad. If you don't want to buy it, check it out from your library. I don't think you'll be sorry for the effort.
I highly recommend.
I wanted to like Fall of Giants. After all, what's not to like in a sweeping historical novel that takes place over the period encompassing the First World War? That was a time, just over a century ago, when there were real class distinctions between the regular people and royalty, when European kings and queens married across houses and countries to solidify relationships, and when the first signs of unrest and anger in the working classes started to boil up.
The problem isn't with the history. In any book that is a historical novel focused so specifically on actual events, we already know the history - it's the characters and their interactions that make the story come alive and introduce us to new perspectives about the period. The problem with Fall of Giants is that the characters are a little too thin and contrived, although believable, but they constantly interact in almost impossible ways and locations.
For example, two peasant brothers in Russia are separated. One leaves on a boat thinking he is headed for America and ends up in Wales. The other remains and becomes radicalized by the growing demands for socialism. The first eventually ends up in the US, marries far above his station, and angers his father in law who ensures he is drafted. The brother that remains in Russian rises and becomes a commissar in the Army. The brother in the US is eventually sent to - you guessed it - Russia to work with the White Army and encounters his brother. If this were the only instance of incredible happenstance in the book, it could be overlooked. But all of the significant characters are constantly meeting in the most unusual places and ways. I understand that the resolution of the First World War caused much change, but the characters simply interact in ways that are almost Forrest Gump-like in their ability to be where the evolving action is happening.
It's all here - the Christmas ceasefire when the British and German soldiers meet in no-man's land. Of course two friends on opposite sides meet here as well. The fall of the Russian government and the resolution of the War by Wilson. The collapse of the German government and the start of the Weimar republic. If you are a student of this period, the book highlights a number of famous, and not so well known events, like the US support of the White Armies in Russia.
But we know the history, and the characters and their interactions aren't believable enough to overcome the forced and somewhat predictable plot. Will the German husband and the English lady, married in secret, meet again after the war? Drumroll please...of course they will. And so on throughout the book.
You have to admire any book ONE of Three that is almost a thousand pages, but by blending too many stories and characters the author is forced to make the plot "work" rather than letting the story unfold. There's a lot of effort in this work, but one leaves the book feeling like a good editor and a better plot would have made the book a lot better.
Roughly covering the 20 years before, during and shortly after World War I, at 985 pages, "Fall of Giants" is more or less the story of the members of five families whose personal lives and/or fortunes rise and fall during the period. Their stories are intended to continue in two subsequent books of the series dubbed "The Century Trilogy." Also being told here--and in very great detail--is the story of the causes, duration and results of the Great War. The book's characters are the voices explaining what is to happen and then they are the actors who carry out the action that follows.
While I'm a real fan of writer Ken Follett--I've read "Pillars of the Earth" twice--I was disappointed in this attempt at more modern history. My biggest problem with the book was the general weakness of the character development. There are so many straw men (and women) set up here (and these are principal characters), that it undermines the author's purpose in writing about them in the first place. With a major theme being class struggle in Britain and Russia, the cast of characters is roughly bifurcated into those "of privilege" and those of the under classes. Not surprisingly, the under class folks are more noble than those who are actually born of nobility and wealth. The scales are so stacked against the latter that they are endowed by the author with limited intellects, undersized (or no) moral compasses and terrible judgement about everything. This includes, by the way, whether to proceed with World War I or avoid that universal disaster. Once the conflagration is begun by the collective crowned idiots of Europe, the morally-crippled upper-crust characters of the book are given almost super-human physical courage (but terrible judgement again) to advance the battle action.
The under class characters--largely English miners, servants and Russian factory workers--are endowed with brains, moral and physical courage and good looks. They suffer mightily at the hands of their social betters, but mostly survive and prosper despite the bias and repression that they experience, respectively. Author Follett sends a clear signal that it is this group that will prevail--at least in the next installment of this series. Fine, I can readily accept his perspective on social justice. But there is just too much cliche in these characters.
The other criticism I have of the book is its reliance on unlikely conversations about politics, government and military action to advance the story. Virtually every one of the principal characters is put into situations of coincidence that have them exchanging pleasantries and opining about strategic plans with the leaders of their countries. Social conversations between lovers, parents and children, etc. include detailed discussions about international treaty obligations, tariffs, military planning and all manner of unlikely topics. There is one "Romeo and Juliet" couple in the story (she's English, he's German) that are written into every important decision made by their respective governments before and during the war. This at a time when women could not vote in Britain.
When I finished the book--and there are some parts that are quite readable since it is Ken Follett, after all--I was left with the impression that the author just bit off more detailed history than was necessary and didn't pay enough attention to his characters. I was also left wondering about the title of the book. "Fall of Giants" suggests that some group of superior people experienced a loss of fortune. But in truth, the superior people in this book--the privileged and powerful-- simply can't be viewed as "giants". As described by author Follett, they are more like mental and moral midgets, certainly deserving of a "fall" or whatever misfortune comes their way.
I really hope that the next installment of this series slows down considerably; drops the minute historic and political details; and focuses on the potentially very interesting characters.
on May 8, 2013
I started this novel but just couldn't do it and gave up part way through. I understand that this series is hugely popular, and in fact, the book was lent to me by a coworker who is a fan. I have to admit, the novel was highly readable and I found the pages turning quickly. It became an issue of quality for me. As I was reading it, I just kept thinking 'This is just a big old cheesy soap opera'.
It was hard to read because my eyes were always rolling. Take this sequence from the end of Chapter 2:
He gazed back at her. "You are absolutely enchanting," he said in a low voice; then he kissed her again.
This time she pushed him away. "My lord, what are you doing?" she said in a shocked whisper.
"I don't know."
"But what can you be thinking of?"
"I'm not thinking at all."
She stared up at his chiseled face. The green eyes studied her intently, as if trying to read her mind. She realized she adored him. Suddenly she was flooded with excitement and desire.
"I can't help myself," he said.
She sighed happily. "Kiss me again then," she said.
I read a few more chapters after this, but it was just sooo baaad. I guess a lot of people like this sort of thing but it just doesn't appeal to me. I found the writing pedestrian, the dialogue clunky, and the story too melodramatic for my tastes.
Fall Of Giants is another mammoth-size work of historical fiction from Ken Follett that you won't want to put down once you start reading it. I got so caught up in this 985 page advance reader copy that I finished it in about a week, which is super fast for me. Fall Of Giants, the first book in The Century Trilogy, follows the lives of five interrelated families as they move through the events of WWI, the Russian Revolution and the women's suffrage movement. Follett's characters are so richly developed and his narrative abilities are so strong that I felt that I was right along side each of these families as they moved through the major events in their lives. I highly recommend Fall Of Giants to you so that you can enjoy traveling with Follett's characters as they move from Washington to St. Petersburg, from the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering palaces of the super wealthy, to the corridors of power and to the bedrooms of the mighty. Do yourself a favor and be one of the first on line to get yourself a copy of this very entertaining, well-researched and memorable book. But be aware that your enjoyment won't come cheap -- the retail price of Fall Of Giants is $36. I think you'll find, however, that it is worth every penny.
on October 10, 2010
Don't let the length of 985 pages put you off from reading this highly readable book. I easily read it in less than a week (while taking care of 3 grandchildren during the daytime). I have a KIndle but chose the hardback because the e-version was more expensive than the ink version. I was very impressed with the format of the book in hard-back; light smooth pages, that lay open without effort on the reader's part.
Ken Follett tells the story of WWI, it's causes and the class conditions from the point of view of England, Russia, Germany and the United States. I have stayed away from war novels before but this one focused on all points of view without casting judgment on any one country. The class conditions in England, Russia and Germany that contributed greatly to the war are observed through the stories of families in all 3 countries. I came away with a feeling that WWI was a totally political war, and not worth the millions of lives that were lost. Mr. Follett is reputed to be writing 2 more books in this trilogy and I anxiously await to see how he will treat WWII and the holocaust, which seems to be a far more "just" war.
Fall of Giants is an epic work of historical fiction by Ken Follett. It is the first installment of a planned three part trilogy. This book is set in Europe from 1911-1925. Follett follows the lives of five families in England, Germany, Russia, and the US. The story primarily focuses on three topics - the rise of socialism/bolshevism, the First World War, and women's suffrage - that are chronicled through the actions of these families. I am not even going to attempt to summarize the plot but suffice to say that the major historical events in this time period are included.
Historical figures (George V, Wilson, WWI generals, Wilhelm II) interact with the fictional characters in realistic ways. This is a time period with which I have some familiarity and I was impressed with the depth and accuracy of the historical research included in this story. Follett provides a full review of the Russian Revolution providing detail that I think many readers will find new. His depiction of the Russian nobility particularly as it contrasts with the English nobility points out why the revolution in Russia was more extreme that the rise of socialism in Britain. The story resonated with me when Follett spent some time in developing the background. I thought the section on the Welsh coal miners was excellent, giving the reader a realistic view of the terror that was coal mining in the early 1900s. Also the parts on trench warfare in France told through several of the characters experience were very well done and will remain with the reader.
It really is a great retelling of early 20th century events, very readable and epic in scale. So why did I not love it. This is usually just my kind of book. I think my problem was in the character development or lack thereof. With few exceptions - Billy Williams, the Welsh coal miner, his sister Ethel and Lady Maud Fitzherbert - I just didn't really care about what happened to them. Most of the characters were flat and clichéd. All of the characters acted in predictable ways and even though they experienced tumultuous events no character growth is seen. Compared to Follett's work on medieval England (Pillars of the Earth and World Without End) this beginning left me a little disappointed. So in summary I'd rate this 3.5 if I could, great story not so great characters.
Side note I read an advance reader copy that was huge - 4.5 inches thick, I am rethinking a kindle purchase!
"Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail." -- Hebrews 1:12 (NKJV)
Isn't it interesting that on the day I wrote this review, the hardcover book retailed for quite a bit less on Amazon than the Kindle version? Who would have thought that could be possible for a book that's almost 1,000 pages long?
As a youngster, I was fascinated by the CBS televised history series, "You Are There," which was narrated by Walter Cronkite. These re-enactments of critical moments made history interesting and understandable to me in a delightful way that helped turn me into a history major in college. I'm deeply grateful for the experience.
I was fascinated to see that Fall of Giants was designed to take a similar approach, while adding the desirable qualities of multiple narrators with different perspectives, much interaction among the characters, and a family saga element that provides even more depth of understanding. Even though I am quite familiar with the histories that are related here, I found myself wondering what historical lessons would be added to the comments made by the "future-looking" characters who often serve as quasi-prophets in the stories. A lot of historians must have worked very hard to be sure that so many historical insights made it into this novel. Fall of Giants has a surface accuracy that's quite impressive. I suspect that a lot of people will learn more about 1911 through 1923 in the UK, Russia, Germany, and the United States from this book than from any history courses that have taken or might take in the future.
When I saw the list of characters, I couldn't for the life of me imagine how they might relate to one another across cultures. The nicest surprises in the book came from the many unexpected little events that Mr. Follett used to bring his characters together and to draw them apart. I couldn't wait to get to the end to see what inventions he would use.
The book emphasizes the story lines of:
aristocracy losing to meritocracy
integrity being better than popularity and wealth
new ideas replacing tradition
duty versus responsibility
women seeking more equal opportunities
male egos being harmful to everyone else
Watch out that you don't read any detailed descriptions of how the characters' stories develop. You will lose a lot of the joy of the book should that occur.
I like books where the main characters have many chances to make decisions, to express themselves, and to deal with adversity. From the combination, I can get to know and understand them much better. Fall of Giants really delivers in that way for characters such as Gus Dewar, Earl Fitzherbert, Lady Maud Fitzherbert, Walter von Ulrich, Grigori Peshkov, Ethel Williams, and Billy Williams.
I am excited that there are two more books in the trilogy to come. I'm ready!
Bravo, Mr. Follett!