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Customer Review

363 of 400 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Still a good read, but not as good as "Giants" or previous Follett works, September 18, 2012
This review is from: Winter of the World (The Century Trilogy, Book 2) (Kindle Edition)
Follett is my favorite author and I have read all his books. I enjoyed the first installment in this trilogy, "The Fall of Giants" though it was not his best work. That book had a bad habit of following a character leading up to great world events, then cutting to a different character only to return to the previous one sometime after those events. I realize this is ultimately a "character story" but it's also epic historic fiction and it seemed unnecessary. Still, I enjoyed most of the characters, felt I learned new things about the history of the period and was reasonably engrossed. I gave it 4 stars.

"Winter of the World" repeats the same issue but has additional flaws. It picks up about a decade after the previous book. All the major characters that survived the end of the first book are still in this one, but they have been relegated to secondary characters. We never get the story from their first-person POV, like we did in "Giants." Instead, the POV's are now all from their various children. Which would be fine, except I felt these previous major characters had all been reduced to two dimensional archetypes. Fitz is a cliche British lord who you would have thought never had a moment of indiscretion or doubt in his life. Ethel is the wise and matronly Labor politician who seems incapable of mistakes or indiscretion. Maud is basically a straw man for the War's impact on German women, especially those who were not disposed to follow the Fascists. Grigori, who had one of the most interesting stories in the previous book, is now devoid of any interest. He's a whole-hearted functionary of Stalin, nothing more or less. The only character with any interesting backstory development is Lev, though I didn't find it quite credible.

The new characters, the next generation, were inconsistent in quality. With the exception of Daisy, Lev's daughter, I didn't find most of their characters that complicated or interesting so much as the historical circumstances they were in the middle of. Ethel and Fitz's son Lloyd, for example, had one of the most interesting stories, but not because he was complicated. He was a decent man and hero from start to finish with very little personal development. But his adventures volunteering in the Spanish civil war before the full outbreak of WWII was interesting. Maud and Walter's daughter also had an interesting story, as did Grigori's son. But not much in the way of development, other than to sow the seeds for Grigori's son's doubts about communism. They were highly likeable, just not complicated. Ethel was complicated.

Another short-coming of this sequel to "Giants" was that Follett didn't expand the universe of families and had already contrived for the ones established in the first book to all be reasonably prosperous and important. In "Giants" the Williams start out as dirt-poor miners in England and we get some great perspective on that life and what it was like to be a grunt for the Allies in WWI. Similarly, Lev and Grigori start out as peasants in Russia. Here we never get that perspective first-hand from any of the characters. The Williams are by now a Labor Party political dynasty. Grigori is a General in Stalin's Russia and Lev is would be Godfather-style gangster with an unconvincing twist (which I won't spoil). The only family in decline is Walter and Maud's in Germany, but still they are better off than most.

Nor does Follett make any effort to give the reader perspective from multiple sides this time. In "Giants" for example we had Germany's perspective from Walter and saw it not as a unilateral act of aggression but the inevitable results of aristocratic arrogance from all sides. Here the Nazi's and Stalin's communists are evil incarnate from day one. On the brief occasions we're in any of the heads of those supporting them it's always to see them doubting and troubled. I'm not suggesting the Fascists weren't evil, of course, but it just lent the story less depth and complexity. Germany, for example, had the better part of a decade where more and more people became supporters of the Nazi's because they did temporarily improve the quality of life and efficiency of government for those citizens they didn't persecute. This was true not just in Germany but beyond, where they were admired by many people in the West until they started invading their European neighbors. Here that admiration is portrayed almost exclusively as fueled by hatred and prejudice rather than the false allure of Fascist efficiency. Missed opportunity.

Follett remains my favorite author and I still look forward to reading the third installment of this trilogy. It was okay, just not exceptional.

Oh, and the $20 Kindle price (US) is ridiculous. If you're not a die-hard fan or deparate for a new read, I would consider waiting until you can borrow a copy from the library. But I didn't factor that into my review or rating.
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Showing 1-10 of 18 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 23, 2012 6:50:08 AM PDT
Although I was young then, as one who read news and who witnessesed family and townspeoples' spirited discussions of that era, I can verify that in the US in the 1930s and early 40s, the comments above in this review are accurate. There was some admiration of Germany and Russia for putting people to work along with considerable dissatisfaction with the failures of our system during the great depression. Neither Fascist nor Communist systems were commonly viewed as inherently evil as they are now in the US.

Posted on Sep 23, 2012 6:51:44 AM PDT
Although I was young then, as one who read news and who witnessesed family and townspeoples' spirited discussions of that era, I can verify that in the US in the 1930s and early 40s, the comments above in this review are accurate. There was some admiration of Germany and Russia for putting people to work along with considerable dissatisfaction with the failures of our system during the great depression. Neither Fascist nor Communist systems were commonly viewed as inherently evil as they are now in the US.

Posted on Sep 25, 2012 5:40:45 AM PDT
KittyP says:
I think this review puts it's finger on exactly what was wrong with this book. The rise of Nazism has a lot of potential as a really interesting story. People in the Weimar Republic were close to starving (which Follet does touch upon at the end of FoG), for a while fascism made things better for most people. Having a basically good character go through that journey of appreciating the improvements in their lives, supporting Hitler, disbelieving the horrors that were happening under the shiny surface of their prosperity and their final acceptance of what the Nazis were really doing. We had a little of that with one German character but he was really just shown as a foolish child who wanted to hang with the cool gang despite the rest of his family trying to educate him otherwise. The story would have had a lot more depth if we had experienced the very real reasons that fascism seemed like a good system to so many ordinary Germans.

And not just the Germans. The Blackshirt characters in the UK were equally two dimensional. Reading this book and about the Battle of Cable St gave absolutely no insight into what drew so many British people toward fascism. We know why the characters who stood against it did so but from a modern perspective we know that anyway. It would have been far more interesting and enlightening to have seen what attracted Boy to fascism and why the British government and police force were on the fascist side.

I did enjoy many aspects of this book but it wasn't as educational or as thought provoking as Fall of Giants.

Posted on Sep 27, 2012 6:50:53 AM PDT
bongo says:
Great review, I am also a KF fan I found him pretty late in his releases ( my first two books being Jackdaws and Flight of the Hornet) but I did not realize his genius until I read Pillars and its follow up. I mostly Got into KF because he wrote WWII fiction which intertwined in WWII reality in that history doesn't always report the smaller stories within the whole of the war and I like the way jackdaws and his other WWII books did that. Even though they were fiction you could believe that maybe similiar dramas such as those may have played out during the war. Anyway, I read Giants and will read the follow ups but now at least i am prepared for what the new book is . Thanks

Posted on Oct 20, 2012 9:57:09 AM PDT
joliecat says:
Thank you for such a good review. For me, much of the wrenching plot twists and turns and vivid characterization suffered because of the scope of this work. I have read practically everything Mr. Follett has written (except Triple and Paper Money, which are both in libraries). Trying to figure out how all the families fit and intertwine together probably took wall sized charts and weeks of planning. Some of the action is a little too convenient and coincidental. Otherwise, I really enjoyed "Winter" even though the literary quality is lesser than most of his earlier stuff.

If I had written it, I might have had Maud off herself by openly defying the SS people and enticing them to shoot her. Watching her reduce and reduce under the strain of the war was sad.

Posted on Nov 1, 2012 7:38:16 AM PDT
While I agree with many aspects of the critique by J. Stewart that the character development of the figures from the prior novel is limited, Follett moves forward with many new characters and history and ravels these into a believable and enrapturing story just as his former novel did. I agree that Winter of the World is not as good a novel as The Fall of Giants. perhaps this has much to do with the fact that the characters in The Fall of Giants are more fully described and their role in history seems much more profound. The characters in The Winter of the World in many ways appear to be swept along in the history of the world at that time. That is not to say that all are, but many seem to have much less impact on history than the characters in The fall of Giants. Nevertheless, Follett has done an amazing job of character development, story telling history and integrating those characters in that history all in only 936 pages.

Posted on Nov 8, 2012 7:12:08 AM PST
I'm in agreement with this review...this is not Follets best...its still a good read. There is a lack of character background and development. I hope the third installment is developed much more fully. I also hope the price improves as well......this book was too expensive.....especially with its flaws.

Posted on Nov 19, 2012 1:02:11 AM PST
R. Nicholson says:
From reading some of the reviews of this book I have come to the conclusion that the price of books in the US must be very cheap. I paid $22 for the hardcover in Big W in OZ. and that was a bargain. Some of the major bookshops have it at over $40.
I decided against the Kindle version so that it was easier to read with no formatting issues, and it adds to my small DTB library.
As with KF's previous 3 books it is just a bloody good read. No more to say.

Posted on Nov 24, 2012 6:08:31 PM PST
Historken says:
Ironic to me as I didn't care for the first volume but love this book. I only wish my Kindle version didn't have missing pages at the beginning of chapters. I deleted it and downloaded it again. I called Amazon and got three people from the Indian Ocean area who were puzzled but the third one "bought" a version of it and it had the same problem.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012 8:28:32 PM PST
rocky49152 says:
This review sums it up pretty well. Reading some of the comments, it seems like it would have almost been worthwhile to have an additional book that spanned the period between the Treaty of Versailles and the beginning of WWII that would have put us into the minds of ordinary Germans. Looking back at that time it's still hard for many to believe that such an advanced society could fall under the spell of a madman like Adolf Hitler - particularly in light of the spectacular embarrassment of the Beer Hall Pustch. It would have been nice to read about this within the context of Follett's expert story-telling ability. Still eagerly awaiting the 3rd book.
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