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[personal profile] foudebassan
by Ken Follett.

i should begin by saying that I loved Pillars of the Earth (the prequel, though both books can be read independently from each other). I was around 14 when I read it, it was the first real grown-up book I read in English, and also one of the first to have explicit sex scenes in it.

Smut + poor understanding of the story = one of the best books I can remember reading

So, when I saw the sequel on the bookstore shelf it was an whirlwind romance - just long enough to get past the cash register and we were in bed together. And in the bath. And on the bog, but you probably don't need to know all the details.

I'm... not so enthusiastic now that I've read it.

First, the sex isn't that good. For one who has become acquainted with fanfic, it's actually pretty bland and most un-original.

Second, Merthin and Caris are quite literally Jack and Aliena, just younger by two centuries, there is no effort at all in making them different characters. Characterisation in general is two-dimensional, you get the impression that the protagonists inherit all their characteristics, up to and including their aptitudes and achievements. They also don't change over time. Roger in peculiar had plenty of opportunities to redeem himself, beginning with having experienced the reality of war and ending with becoming a father. He's still a mindless brute to the very end.

I'm also not that sure about the general historic background. From what I've read on the Plague, it wasn't received in such a rational and organised manner, general hysteria was more like it. I suppose we're more used to endemic illness by now - stuff that kills you slowly, and/or that isn't too contagious if you understand how it's spread (I'm thinking of AIDS). In contrast, knowing that every day might be your last, not having a clue how it spreads or how it works and seeing up to half of your contemporaries die under your eyes must induce all kinds of extreme behaviour. I suppose it's all very well meant, to show how individuals can assume leadership, make the best of a hectic situation and turn it to everyone's advantage, but I'm not convinced the Middle Ages are the best timeframe to set burgeoning individuality.

That was probably supposed to be balanced by the many other not-so-minor characters, but the book (1100 pages already) couldn't take that much background info so I'm left with the nagging feeling I wasn't told everything that had to be told. What's with this witch business, for instance, are there precedents, what do they know happens in other towns? To the author's defence, you do get the impression that several chapters were brutally amputated. Editorial constraints, perhaps? Still, it would probably have been more of a success if it had been split into two books.

And while we're at research, someone really needs to tell Mr. Follett that women don't spontaneously start lactating - and that you really can't tell when someone is two weeks pregnant. If he were a fanficcer, he'd be featured on some sporking community before the reader was half-way through the book.

That said, I devoured the book from cover to cover. Without being literature, or even the bestest book evah!!1! for sex-crazed teenagers, it's an engaging read. I'd recommend it.
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