on 28 September 2010
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.
This is an enormous book, although for its size, it was quick to read. The novel begins in Wales on 22nd June 1911, the day King George V was crowned in London, and in Wales, thirteen year old Billy Williams went down the mine for the first time. Very quickly the reader is drawn into the story which covers events in America, Europe, and Russia as well as the United Kingdom (mostly Wales and London) and a huge range of characters both rich and poor. My favourite character was Ethel, sister of Billy Williams, who, at the start of the story is a housemaid at Ty Gwyn, home of Earl Fitzherbert, who owns the land, under which her brother mines for coal. Follett weaves a good yarn and this story is definitely plot driven - a plot which unfolds against the background of the build-up, course, and aftermath of the First World War. There are love stories, industrial unrest, political dramas, battlefield horrors, class struggles and lots more in this tale. It is delivered in episodes, dealing first with one section of the story, and then another, and strands sometimes coming together in unexpected ways. The characters are witness to historic events including The Battle of the Somme, Lenin's return to Petrograd, Germany signing the Treaty of Versailles to name but three of many and the way that Follett is able to weave fact with fiction is impressive and informative. You do have to suspend your disbelief a bit as the paths of the characters cross time and again, both with each other, and with the historical figures of the time, but it is worth the effort and through this approach to history, you do get a sense of how these events affected the lives of so many different people around the world. There is sometimes a more laboured explanation of things - for example the British parliamentary system, than is strictly necessary, but then this is a work aimed at a global audience not just a UK one and at times the dialogue between the characters seems a bit stilted as they vocalise different positions on issues of the day which can read a bit like a history essay.
Overall though, this is definitely worth reading. It's well-researched, easy to read, and sustains the reader's interest level well throughout. I look forward to reading the next part of this trilogy, although I understand we'll have to wait for that until 2012. Incidentally, I read this book on my Kindle - and having seen the size of the physical version in a bookshop, I am pleased that I didn't have to lug it around with me.
If, like me, you enjoyed the Pillars of the Earth, you'll probably enjoy this as well for it's ability to make history come alive although the historical period in question is very different.
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.
on 14 May 2012
Ken Follett without doubt lays down his reputation as a master story-weaver of the historical classic with "Fall of Giants," this the first part of an incredibly large-scale piece of story telling, he has called "the Century Trilogy" as the series title signifies, it narrates the unruly times of the 20th century.
Set alongside this chronological view are the tangled lives of nearly a hundred characters but don't worry this story-weaver has at the front of this book given us a cast list of the characters involved, a whole six pages.
This tale begins in 1911 when the giants of the title, the crowned heads of Europe, are powerfully established in their palaces, when it ends in 1924 they are all gone except King George V of Britain.
Between the years of 1911 and 1924 we have the various upheavals that were to restructure the world, the world that my great grandparents and grandparents knew.
Offered with plenty of possibility for action by these somewhat turbulent times Ken Follett takes full advantage of this occasion to weave a story that must surely touch the lives of each and every reader.
Apart from the destinies of the reigning crowned heads of Europe we follow the entangled destinies of five families, in Wales, England, Germany, Russia, and America.
Ken Follett has a thorough understanding of the history of this period and his skill to incorporate his research and his fictional characters into an animated, appealing story is masterful.
He's exceptionally successful in relating the build-up to the 1914-18 war, when all hopes of a peaceful resolution steadily disappeared because of the conceit, belligerence, and epic lack of forethought of the powers that be led the way for the devastation that would overshadow the following decades.
This is a gigantic book; however, it was quick to read what with love stories, industrial unrest, political dramas, battlefield awfulness, class struggles it is presented to us in instalments, setting out on the journey first with one section of the story, and then another, at times joining together in unforeseen ways.
I loved the way the characters are eyewitness's to such historic events which include; The Battle of the Somme (My maternal great grandfather fell on the first day), Germany signing the Treaty of Versailles to name but two of many historical events and the way that Ken Follett is so adept to be able weave fact with fiction is inspiring and enlightening.
I really got a sense of how these events had an effect on the lives of so many of my very own families, and as I read this book I found myself thinking that what my great grandparents and grandparents had to go through is why they fought so hard for the vote, women's equality and a living wage and why the first world war maybe had to happen.
In conclusion this is book that is unquestionably worth reading, it's competently researched, effortless to read, and keeps the reader's attention throughout, and I guarantee that If, like me, you enjoy historical novels you'll take pleasure in the masterly woven stories of Ken Follett for his ability to make history come alive.
on 12 June 2011
I bought this on a whim, I wanted something to read as I put my feet up and thought it would be an easy read. An easy read it is, and yes as some of the other reviews point out some of the dialouge is awful, but some of the dialouge is also quite good and the descriptive passages that outline the origins of the First World War are very good indeed. The characters are broad and likeable, slightly weaker when Follett is dealing with the Russian characters. Unlike many other writers of his age and gender at least 60% of the female characters in this book have a coherent narrative arc and are sympathetic to the reader. I enjoyed the book, it rattles along and is more diverting and more interesting that slumping in front of an episode or six of Downtown Abbey. This promises to be a long saga which should appeal to those who have read and enjoyed "Homeland" by John Jakes. As an entertainment it is five stars, as a piece of literature probably two stars, as history three stars. If you are seeking a seering First World War novel read Pat Barker, if you are seeking an insight into the misery of war read anything by Richard Holmes, this novel is for those of us who like history, like engaging characters and an author with a good yarn to spin. Despite myself I thoroughly enjoyed it...and that's why it gets four stars!
on 5 April 2012
I don't often give negative reviews. There were elements of this book which were excellent and emotional. There are parts with heroism, areas of realism too. The problem I found was that the characters had little depth and often there were lengthy descriptions of people who are of no great consequence to the plot. There is also a lot of inconsequencial action. You could abridge the book to half its length and not miss a thing. Much of the story is corny and overdone and has been done before by other authors. There is a theory that there are only seven plots in the world and you can fit your story in one of them. I have a feeling Mr Follett has used a formula on that basis. I liked 'The Pillars of the Earth' but won't buy the rest of this series as I didn't care enough about the characters to be curious.
Three stars? Well as I mentioned some areas of the book are qitte good but most is overworked.
on 8 November 2012
i loved this book for 2 reasons. firstly it is a wonderful story encompassing the globe; the mining slums of wales, the brutal world of russia under the tsar and then the bolshoviks, the american land of promise and plenty and war torn europe.
the characters' lives are skillfully interwoven and shaped by world events and family duty.
The second is that it is so full of facts about how the First World War came about, expressed from varying points of view, and the aftermath in Europe and Russia that I have learnt so much and have a greater understanding about events and reasons.
If you enjoy huge family sagas this is one for you.
Ken Follett sets out to tell the story of the first quarter of the last century. He uses characters from USA, Germany, Austria, France, Russia, England and Wales and interweaves their fictional lives with real people and real events. The result is a highly readable, enjoyable and informative book. The story includes many of the main world events of the time: women's suffrage, imperialism, the labour movement, war, the Treaty of Versailles, the Russian Revolution and prohibition. It begins with the coronation of King George V in Westminster Abbey and ends with the imprisonment of a young National Socialist in Germany whose name is Adolf Hitler.
The book spends a considerable amount of time on the lead up to the Great War - the best I can remember outside a history book. Follett is skilful enough to inform the reader about world events while at the same time using his characters to move the action on. This is not a literary masterpiece and there are definitely a few clichés sprinkled through it. There is a coal-mine, so we know there will be an explosion and mining disaster. If there is a pretty young house maid we can guess she will be seduced.
The research is all very impressive and many interesting facts are included. He mentions the large number of Indian soldiers that took part in the war. (Look for their names if ever you visit the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres.) And he includes the counter-revolutionary war against Russia supported by Britain and America. I did wonder, however, if he had given the United States a bit of an easy ride? I will reserve judgement until I have read Part 2.
A highly enjoyable epic.
on 11 October 2010
I am a massive Follett fan and have read every single one of his books, some of them several times, my favourites being Lie Down With Lions, Pillars and World Without End. So it is with great surprise and disappointment to admit that I have limped, struggled, puffed and panted to page 500 (of 850) of this book and have come on here to see if anyone else is feeling the same as I am about it. Only a few reviews so far, but I'm not the only one to be feeling this way by the looks of things. (Though I'm uncertain as to whether that makes me feel better or not!)
Firstly, there are so many protagonists that it takes sometimes nearly 200 pages to revisit some of them. This does little to add to my empathy for any of them. The long, drawn-out detailing of the letters between the European Leaders in the days leading up to WW1 was, for me, so incredibly boring that I scanned more than 150 pages - something I have never before done in a Follett story. Whilst he often includes a lot of historical fact interwoven with his characters he also, normally, cleverly includes a lot of other stuff going on alongside. This isn't really the case here. It's just tedious.
And the dialogue? It really lacks the usual Follett flow - in places it's so clunky it resembles a child's writing. In fact, I can't believe I'm saying this, but yes, I'm bored! I honestly have to force myself to pick this book up every evening as I have no interest in what happens to any of the people inside it. (And there's no real baddy to shake your fist at (William Hamleigh *cough*) or hero(ine)to cheer on.
I'm determined to finish it out of loyalty to Follett but, after looking forward to it for ages, feel a little like the child who opened The Big Present at Christmas only to discover 98 layers of wrapping before uncovering the supermarket own-brand box of chocolates inside. However, unlike the child who murmurs a polite 'Thank-you' to Granny, I've been brave enough to say what I think and await to be dragged off to The Tower!
Oh, and definitely one for the Kindle for those who so indulge - it's absolutely gigantic and definitely not for carrying around!
Still, Pillars of the Earth starting on the telly next weekend to look forward to! Ken at his best.
Edited on 16/10/10 to add that I finally gave up on page 641 during the Russian Revolution, after several attempts steadfastly determined to slog it out until the end. I then started to scan in order to discover what happened to a couple of the characters but eventually even gave up with that as, quite frankly, I just couldn't care less. I feel bad at writing a review slating the work of one of my favourite authors, so am determined to re-read another of his books shortly, with the intention of leaving more favourable comments as a way of making amends. However, anyone expecting a repeat of Pillars of the Earth may well be disappointed with this. Sorry.
on 1 March 2013
I am a fan of Ken Follett but found this book a real disappointment. The characters were unbelievable and the plot? unconvincing.He managed to incorporate all the usual WW1 detail, railway wagons with the legend 8 horses or 40 men, Christmas truce, underaged soldiers, shot at dawn for cowardice,July 1st somme battle, Pals Battalions,upper class officers (lions led by donkeys)u-boat war, Russian revolution plus in 1918 British positions protected by minefields(this is a first). The main characters all appear to have had some influence on aspects of the war which is truly unbelievable, the Labour party can do no wrong, the Tories and Liberals can do nothing right, the lady in the English family knows all the details of government plans before they are announced to the public through her contacts and the sexual encounters are beyond belief, Mr.Follett must be on some form of medication which hopefully will soon end. There are many,many implausible situations throughout this book and a number of laughable interludes but for me the all time classic lines are delivered by the leading American character to his mother when he is describing his prospective wife."There are two things you will notice about her mother,the first is that she is very pretty and the second is she only has one eye" I laughed until I cried!