- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 45 hours and 40 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Penguin Audio
- Audible.com Release Date: September 25, 2007
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B000X1MX7Y
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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World Without End Audiobook – Unabridged
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It is 1327, the year in which King Edward II died under sinister conditions, the reign passing on to his young son Edward III. Four children, including Merthin, 11, and his younger brother Ralph, 10, wander into the forest to test a new bow-and-arrow, where they stumble upon an attack and subsequent killing, setting a thin central plot for the novel - and the next four decades. Merthin and Ralph, sons of a down-on-his-luck knight, are the descendants of "Pillars" genius architecture, Tom Builder. Merthin is small, wiry, and brilliant - in direct opposite to little brother Ralph, who is not only bigger, but is already showing signs of anger and cruelty that will determine the course of their lives. Accompanying Merthin and Ralph on that fateful November day are Caris, the clever daughter of a wealthy wool merchant, and Gwenda, daughter of a penniless serf and thief. Putting these very different family backgrounds to good use, Follett is able to paint a vivid picture of Medieval life, from an overbearing Church to the merchant guild, the privileged lives of nobility, mechanics of the feudal system, and the early decades of England's 100 Year War with France. The raging bubonic plague plays large in shaping the twists of fate of this rich set of characters; a struggle between religious dogma and an emerging enlightenment in the medical arts. The budding and frustrating love story between Merthin, the talented builder and Caris, bright, independent, and untamed, is a poignant and beautifully told literary feat. In contrast, the brutal and lustful Ralph rapes and pillages on both sides of the channel, finding his own brand of fame through treachery, cruelty, and some timely good luck.
Weighing in at over 1,000 pages, Follett has plenty of time to build characters and multiple story lines - and he does is with aplomb. But despite its length, "World Without End" is neither tedious nor complex. Combined with "Pillars of the Earth," this is legend of Arthurian proportion - a swashbuckling adventure and as good a slice of Medieval life as I've read. A highly recommended cross-genre read that will have very broad appeal.
The characters, of course, are different after 200 years, but are related, and it is interesting that certain traits were passed along genetically. Again we see a genius young architect descended from Jack Builder - this time he builds a beautiful bridge, and upgrades Jack Builder's Cathedral with the highest spire in England. As his love interest, Caris, we see a brilliant beautiful, but very independent woman descended from a similar person in the previous story. Their off and on again love affair proceeds throughout the book. Other love stories, rapes, and quick encounters crisscrossed through the story to the point where eventually it was hard to remember the parent combinations of any particular child.
Besides ongoing struggles between the Church, the city, and the royalty, another strong story element was a plague that nearly wiped out the town of Kingsbridge, and would have done so twice, if not for fast thinking by Caris in establishing a system of quarantine. Medicine in those days was practiced by the monks, who used 300 year old methods, such as bleeding, and who knew nothing of how disease was spread. Caris learned medical secrets from a wise woman, who some thought to be a witch. Caris herself consequently was declared a witch and only escaped death by becoming a nun.
Ken Follett is a great story teller who understands human nature (which remains pretty much the same over the centuries), and who also does his research. As he narrates, he also teaches us. I learned a lot about 14th Century living - food and drink, farming, rules of the feudal system, business practices, medicine, and especially architecture. Follett also knows how to make us care about his characters, and how to keep things exciting. This story is a rollercoaster ride. Just as the characters we care about have finally climbed out of their difficulties and are at a high point, the bottom falls out and they are again in deep trouble. This happens over and over again with every likeable character in the book. However, it is not a dark book; right does finally prevail providing a very happy ending. I would rank it equal to Pillars of the Earth. It is a long, but very enjoyable and worthwhile read.