Ken Follett's new novel, "Winter of the World", is the second in the planned three volume set about the history of the 20th century. Beginning in 1933, Follett brings his huge cast of characters along from the years up to the end of the Great War. To talk about the plot of the new book is impossible. Way too many characters and too many plot points. BUT, Follett's such a good writer that he brings the reader up to date with ALL his characters. Follett gives most of his characters enough nuance that few seem like caricatures.
The interesting thing about Follett's second book is the breadth of the coverage of the 1930's and 40's (and into the `50's). Everything from the burning of the Reichstag to the T4 Euthanesia program under the Nazis, to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the battle of Midway to the development of the atomic bomb is covered. Now, in a regular novel, the reader would think, "oh yeah, how can one character or family of characters be present at all these historic events?" But Follett has developed so many characters that what happens is not unlikely. His characters seem to merge with each other and then separate much like the designs in a kaleidoscope. The American heiress from the Russian-emigree father goes to England in the mid-1930's and marries the son(s) of members the British/Welsh nobility. The German characters interact with both the British and the Russians. All these families had been introduced in Follett's first book and all interacted in Follett's second.
Something else interesting I noticed from Follett's first book and his second is the fact that none of the major characters in the first book died. They had to survive to make the second book possible. Now in the second book, several of the main characters do die, which, given the war setting, is a bit more believable.
Also, and this is important. Follett doesn't do a lot of reintroducing characters, their relationships, and plot points from the first book to the second. I guess he just assumes most readers have read the first book and so know the characters of the second. As a result, there's little awkwardness to his writing and the second book flows pretty naturally.
A question a new reader might ask is if he should read the first book,"Fall of the Giants" before "Winter of the World"? This second book could be a stand-alone novel. Follett sets an ambitious course with his proposed three volume set. So far, with the first and second books, he's done quite well.
I don't normally write such short reviews but there's no way to talk about the plot except to say Follett is a master. And if you don't like the book, you can always use it as a door stop. It is a large volume, containing a great story. Enjoy.
Winter Of The World is the second mammoth-size work of historical fiction in Ken Follett's The Century Trilogy that kept me very engrossed. Winter Of The World follows the lives of five main characters, each the child of the five families featured in Fall Of Giants, as they move through events beginning with the rise of the Third Reich, through the Spanish Civil War and the great dramas of WWII, up to the explosions of the American and Soviet atomic bombs.
Follett's characters are developed well enough and his narrative abilities are strong enough to enable me to feel that that I was right along side each of the main characters as they move through the major events in their lives. I recommend Winter Of The World to those who enjoy historical fiction and think they would enjoy traveling with Follett's characters as they move through the years that were filled with social, political and emotional turmoil.
Is Winter Of The World a perfect book? Of course not; it has its share of limitations. For example, Follett's dialogue, at times, does not ring true and the historical situations in which he involves his characters often appear to be too coincidental and expected. These limitations, however, are mostly outweighed by the excellent job Follett does in pacing his book and in creating a "you are there" atmosphere for the reader.
I'm pretty sure you'll find Winter Of The World to be a very entertaining, well-researched and memorable book. But be aware that your enjoyment won't come cheap -- the retail price of Winter Of The World is $36 in hardcover and $19.99 electronically. I think, however, you'll find that it is worth the money and your time investment.
on 14 September 2012
I don't know what it is about Ken Follett, but his books just get better and better. Fall of Giants the prequel to Winter of The World was simply fantastic with, as usual, something happening on every page.
How he does it, I don't quite know, but even when he writes about casual goings on, it still reads like a "what's going to happen" type of read.
Winter of The World is another biggie at 818 pages but the story is so complex and enthralling that you're going to wish it would go past so many pages.
This is the continuing story of five different families (from the Fall of Giants) going through the middle of the twentieth century, 1933 to 1949 which of course would include mainly the Second World War. It's a page turner with Follett's usual mastery story telling. All the plots in the book are written so well together and in such a way that we are educated as well as entertained. And, as with all Ken Follett's books, there are no boring pages anywhere! Not one!
on 20 October 2014
The century trilogy is a brilliant idea, and the first book `Fall of Giants' is a good read, the second (Winter of the World) is also pretty good but when it comes to the third, (Edge of Eternity) it is wearing very thin, with a pretty formulaic approach to the story. Dealing with world events through the experiences of ordinary people is one thing but by the time you get to the third volume one gets the impression of reading the artificially constructed lives of minor but active players in the big geopolitical events of the second half of the 20th century. Descriptions of the sexual interactions between characters becomes quite frankly boring halfway through volume 2, and by the time you get to volume 3 their only value is to enable `speed-reading', i.e. skipping through them to get to the next interesting bit! (one Amazon reviewer complained that the whole trilogy was `smut'). The whole trilogy was a decent `holiday read' but not a patch on the author's `Pillars of the Earth' /'World Without End' mediaeval stories. Whilst it follows a similar formula unfortunately some events (particularly in the third volume) are sufficiently in living memory of potential readers for it not to work as convincingly. Good exposition of the struggle against all kinds of oppression in the first half of the 20th Century, and after WW2 on both sides of the iron curtain, but the credibility of the whole thing collapsed in volume 3 due to the complete absence of any reference to Thatcher's Britain (ironic, given the first volume's dependence on the exposition of the conflicts between mineowners and miners in the years before and after WW1) and the collapse of the narrative into a clumsy 'West Wing' storyline which is quite pedestrian and even facile in its presentation of the black American Civil Rights movement, the Cuban missile crisis, and the events in Europe leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Decent `holiday' reading, and I will check out his other works, but I am sorry cannot be enthusiastic about this trilogy either as a literary work or as an interpretation of history. Decent holiday read, but disappointing form Ken Follet!
In ‘Winter of the World’, Ken Follett continues his triology of novels following several families throughout the major events of the twentieth century. The story picks up in 1933 and opens strongly with a depiction of the rise of Nazism in Germany. Once again, the principal characters are the younger generation of the families, mostly aged around 18-20 at the start of the novel. These are the children of the protagonists in the first book, who also feature in their own right. You should definitely read the preceding novel (‘Fall of Giants’) before starting this one.
As always with Follett, you get a solid, entertaining story that is easy to read and holds the attention. It’s true that the prose has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer but I prefer that to an overly literary, pretentious style. There is nothing particularly beautiful or charming about his writing and he has an annoying habit of pointing out the blooming obvious, whilst his plot relies heavily on coincidence and sees his characters at the centre of every major political event of the times. But it’s fun all the same.
As in the first novel, there’s a strong – perhaps over-strong – left wing bias and an almost laughable tendency for the characters to be at the front line of significant political events. The rich characters are generally ‘baddies’ whilst the working class are staunchly heroic. The characters are generally likeable enough, despite many being remarkably similar to those in the prequel, and indeed in Follett’s other novels.
It’s a good primer on the history of the Second World War, and as with the first novel I think this would be a great read for teenagers learning about that period, as a much more entertaining way of finding out about some of this. The abuses of power in both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia are chillingly well depicted and Follett doesn’t pull punches in his descriptions of the horror of war. You have to admire the scope of the novel as well – not many authors would attempt to give such a global portrayal of a conflict within one (admittedly long) book. At times you can go a hundred pages or more between reading about a particular set of characters, but Follett has the ability to keep the reader interested in whatever he puts on the page, so the transitions are painless.
It’s easy to pick holes in the book, especially when looking back in retrospect, and it’s not particularly memorable or moving. But I enjoyed reading it and looked forward to the next few chapters in the evening, so for me, that’s a success. Readers who strongly prefer literary novels might not enjoy it, but if you enjoy a good yarn and can happily suspend your disbelief for a while, then give it a go. It’s good holiday reading – provided you take the e-book version given the suitcase busting length!
on 24 March 2014
I loved 'World without end' and when I had finished it I was really looking forward to 'Winter of the world'. What a disappointment! I can but concur with others who have reviewed this book. I am sure it's fine if you don't mind getting the feeling that you are wading knee deep up a muddy hill. After struggling through 130 pages of the 800 plus I had to give up. Way too many characters and complicated plots which appeared to be at times a vehicle for the author's own political beliefs. No, not for me I am afraid. Sorry Mr Follett - I have enjoyed your other books but this one has beaten me into submission.
on 28 May 2013
Adolf makes war! Adolf is a bad man! American sees Adolf. American chases Adolf - hoorah!
Fifty years ago, a series of reading books for young children featuring the characters Janet and John were popular in the UK. Featuring short, basic sentences they now look very anachronistic and simplistic. In fact, they looked like that pretty much the moment they came off the printing presses. But they were widely read and presumably made someone a lot of money. I'm afraid that Ken Follett's "Winter of the World" is very much in the same mould.
"Winter of the World" is the second instalment of Follett's Century trilogy, a selective lightweight history of the twentieth century. You may have heard the claim that each of us is only six contacts away from every other human being on the planet, as in: I know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows a Russian billionaire or Kalahari bushman or whoever. Follett's variant is that five vaguely inter-related families (from Germany, England, Wales, Russia and the United States) are not just witnesses to the key events of the last century but participate in them and in many cases make them happen. This part of the trilogy covers the 1930's and 1940's, meaning the rise of Fascism, World War 2 and its immediate aftermath. So... Hitler gaining power, Battle of Cable Street, Pearl Harbour, siege of Moscow, first atomic bomb,etc... take your pick, one of the group of five was there.
In terms of literature, this falls into the "quantity not quality" category. The impression is that it was written with a TV mini-series not just in mind, but specifically for it. One for an undemanding American audience, broken down into 5 minute segments so as not to confuse people or interfere with the adverts. Everything American in it is wonderful, everything English, German or Russian is denigrated ("Gee Ken, you've written it just the way we like it here in Hollywood!"). Everything Welsh is wonderful, too (the main hero is Welsh, as is Follett himself of course). Follett's politics come through more strongly than in previous works - this is very much of an uncritical ode to the Labour government of 1945. It also has a modern feel to it, with homosexual, multi-racial and unmarried couples. However, the attitudes to them are very much those of the present day rather than those of 70-odd years ago, in much the same way as period BBC television dramas tend to feature characters from the present who've simply been transported back in time.
I've been a great fan of Follett and have spread the word by giving copies of his books to friends and relatives. But I fear he has lost the plot with this instalment and have grave fears for the final one.
on 16 February 2014
I really really wanted to love this book but i just couldn't. The story itself is great and I quite like the characters, two dimensional though they may be. My main problem is still the writing style, which i must admit i find quite annoying at times (every thought a character has doesn't have to be simplified. Credit your readers with at least a little bit of intelligence Ken!). I found the chapter on Spain quite annoying also as having grown up knowing quite a few members of the International Brigade, I know they weren't anywhere near as under the thumb of Stalin as the book suggests i.e. random executions of British IB members by an evil Russian officer ( I think there was only ever 1 British member executed, and even thats in doubt). Having said all that, i kept going with the book as i really did find the plot and characters interesting enough to stop me putting it down however, having a great interest in that time period may have influenced me. All in all, if your looking for something to challenge you or make you think, find something else but if your going on a long trip or down to the beach and need to pass the time, probably worth a go.
on 18 November 2012
Really poor. It's the Secret Seven meets the Commando comics. Two dimensional characters, stereotypical good guys and bad guys. Over simplified history. No depth to story line (despite the length of book). I've read a few Ken Follet books before and this is undoubtedly his poorest.
on 16 November 2012
Having very much enjoyed Fall of Giants, as well as virtually all of Ken Follett's other works, I had long awaited the second part of the trilogy. I can only say what an enormous letdown - I thought I was reading the history of the 1930s as a comic strip. Or maybe I had bought the Jeffrey Archer trilogy by mistake?
The story has now reached Spain and I've just given up - I can't bear to see the Spanish Civil War treated in the same way. Ah well, at least I only wasted 20p.