Top positive review
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Entertaining wartime epic
on 25 June 2013
Ken Follett is unafraid of writing lengthy novels, and Fall of Giants is certainly a door-stop sized tome. 'Fall of Giants' is in many ways a modern 'War and Peace', set in the First World War. As in Tolstoy's great novel, it takes the lives of numerous characters, male and female, who have their own storylines but frequently intersect. Alongside the domestic and personal dramas, there is also a lot of page time devoted to the fates of countries. Follett gets away with the length by writing in a very easy-to-read, interesting style. It lacks any great literary flourishes, focussing on plot and character development instead, but is nevertheless intelligent. There is a lot of political content and information about battles, but he balances it out with human dramas and it is very readable. I found it improved my understanding of the politics behind the Second World War, Russian Revolution, and social changes in Britain at that time far better than any number of history books could have done.
There are some good characters here. As always, Follett brings a collection of strong minded women - and they work better in the 1910s than they did in some of his medieval novels, which have at times been criticised for depicting women with just too much independence to be historically accurate. He covers an impressive range of different nationalities, although all of his characters are intelligent and to some degree politically minded, even those who start out at the lower end of the social scale. The novel is well paced, and covers a wide time span without feeling scrappy. He also does a relatively good job of keeping us up to date with all of his diverse characters, although inevitably there are sections where characters don't feature too often and it's possible to lose the thread of their story.
It's not hard to tell where Follett's sympathies lie - whilst the book does present different political arguments and characters across the spectrum, it's pretty clear that Follett is a Labour man. The working class and liberal minded characters are much more sympathetic than the aristocrats and Conservatives. I found the Russian steel worker and soldier, Grigori, perhaps the most interesting and least stereotypical character. Follett's characters are certainly well connected - each is for whatever reason a leading light in a major political movement in their respective nation. This enables him to tell the story of how the war came about and the politics of its continuation and end, which he would have found harder to do otherwise. But sometimes I found my credibility stretched slightly by the elevated status of these characters. It also has surprisingly little emotional punch for a book set in one of the most terrible conflicts the world has seen.
Overall it's an enjoyable and entertaining story that has improved my knowledge of this period of history. It would be a good novel for history students to read, as it explains the history and motivations in a way that is much more pleasurable than a dry textbook. I don't know the history well enough to be sure if it's accurate, but it seems to be well researched and fits in with what I do know. There are some sex scenes but nothing particularly graphic and I don't think anything that would surprise a 21st century teenager. It's worth a read for adults too, especially if you are looking for a plot driven entertaining read with an intelligent undertone. I will be adding the sequel to my list of books to read, which is as good a recommendation as any.