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Kingsbridge #3

A Column of Fire

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As Europe erupts, can one young spy protect his queen? Ken Follett takes us deep into the treacherous world of powerful monarchs, intrigue, murder, and treason with his magnificent epic, A Column of Fire—the chronological latest in the Kingsbridge series, following The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, and the prequel, The Evening and the Morning.

In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love.

Ned Willard wants nothing more than to marry Margery Fitzgerald. But when the lovers find themselves on opposing sides of the religious conflict dividing the country, Ned goes to work for Princess Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, all Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch sets up the country’s first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions, and invasion plans. Over a turbulent half century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. Elizabeth clings to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents.

The real enemies, then as now, are not the rival religions. The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else—no matter what the cost.

Exciting and ambitious, and set during one of the most turbulent and revolutionary times in history, A Column of Fire will delight longtime fans of the Kingsbridge series and serve as the perfect introduction for readers new to Ken Follett.

916 pages, Hardcover

First published September 12, 2017

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About the author

Ken Follett

355 books52k followers
Ken Follett is one of the world’s most successful authors. Over 170 million copies of the 36 books he has written have been sold in over 80 countries and in 33 languages.

Born on June 5th, 1949 in Cardiff, Wales, the son of a tax inspector, Ken was educated at state schools and went on to graduate from University College, London, with an Honours degree in Philosophy – later to be made a Fellow of the College in 1995.

He started his career as a reporter, first with his hometown newspaper the South Wales Echo and then with the London Evening News. Subsequently, he worked for a small London publishing house, Everest Books, eventually becoming Deputy Managing Director.

Ken’s first major success came with the publication of Eye of the Needle in 1978. A World War II thriller set in England, this book earned him the 1979 Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America. It remains one of Ken’s most popular books.

In 1989, Ken’s epic novel about the building of a medieval cathedral, The Pillars of the Earth, was published. It reached number one on best-seller lists everywhere and was turned into a major television series produced by Ridley Scott, which aired in 2010. World Without End, the sequel to The Pillars of the Earth, proved equally popular when it was published in 2007.

Ken’s new book, The Evening and the Morning, will be published in September 2020. It is a prequel to The Pillars of the Earth and is set around the year 1,000, when Kingsbridge was an Anglo-Saxon settlement threatened by Viking invaders.

Ken has been active in numerous literacy charities and was president of Dyslexia Action for ten years. He was chair of the National Year of Reading, a joint initiative between government and businesses. He is also active in many Stevenage charities and is President of the Stevenage Community Trust and Patron of Home-Start Hertfordshire.

Ken, who loves music almost as much as he loves books, is an enthusiastic bass guitar player. He lives in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, with his wife Barbara, the former Labour Member of Parliament for Stevenage. Between them they have five children, six grandchildren and two Labradors.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,917 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
October 11, 2017
I've had a whole month and 900+ pages to think about it-- and I just didn't enjoy A Column of Fire as much as The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End.

I think I know why, and I'll get to that in a second, but I'd first like to say that this isn't a bad book. I happily read right through to the end without feeling like it was a chore to finish. Some of Follett's tried and tested formula is present here - namely, a central starcrossed romance and despicable villains - which keeps the pages turning, but I think this book overall is a move away from a style I really enjoyed in the previous books.

This book didn't focus in-depth on the lives of the Kingsbridge citizens. Instead, I felt like it was hardly about Kingsbridge at all, but rather about the entire world at this time, and the wider struggles between Catholics and Protestants. Perhaps it is because, by this time, sea travel and exploration was much more common, but the effect was that I cared less about the individual characters; I felt less pulled into the nitty gritty of their everyday lives.

A Column of Fire operates on a bigger scale and with a wider scope than its predecessors. Larger political and religious battles dominate the narrative at the expense of characterisation. More scope, less depth.

At times, it felt almost like an overview of history at this point and it's a history lesson that every British schoolchild learns early. Where The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End focused on chapters of the Middle Ages that were foreign to me, I can quickly name every single Tudor monarch, every wife of Henry VIII, and tell you about the religious struggles, even details such as what happened to Margaret Clitherow. And the gunpowder plot? We still light bonfires and fireworks and eat toffee apples every fifth of November in remembrance.

In order for this book to work better on such an oft-explored area of history, it needed to go deeper into Kingsbridge and the characters' lives. The romance needed to be more exciting, more tragic, more like that of Aliena and Jack or Caris and Merthin. Ned and Margery lacked passion. I didn't get a sense that they were fighting to be together, or that they were particularly disheartened when circumstances tore them apart.

This series has always seemed, to me, to be first and foremost about the characters. Their, lives, loves, tragedies and heartbreak. The politics happening in the background offered the stage on which the character drama played out, but it was not what the books were about. Here, it was. And I simply didn't love/hate the characters I was supposed to love/hate as much as I was supposed to love/hate them.

Oh, and for some reason, there was also a strange use of modern terminology in this book that I never noticed in The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. I read them both fairly recently so I don't think I'm just forgetting. Things like the use of "creepy" (I checked and this is used roughly 200 years too soon) and Ned uses the very modern phrase "hell yes". There were other examples I didn't note down. Perhaps this book just needed a few more rounds of editing.

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Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
April 11, 2020
I didn’t want to write this review, I’ve been weighing it up for a few days, but this book is so far removed from the previous two books that a negative review is unavoidable. A Column of Fire is way too short and way too predictable, which is a sort of odd comment to make about a book over 750 pages long with a huge cast of characters. But let me explain.

Ken Follet is at his best when he writes massive historical yarns. He mixes the political and social issues of the age with the lives of some very real people, people who could have existed within the eras in which he writes. And he did that here, at least, in part. The Willards and The Fitzgeralds fortunes rose and fell with the Catholic and Protestant rivalry, which came to a climax when Elizabeth I took England’s throne. Though I think this book’s greatest downfall is its sheer lack of depth and sense of crisis throughout.

I just didn’t care about the citizens of Kingsbridge this time round.

Let’s rewind and compare it to The Pillars of the Earth. After every major section of the novel, something big happened. The Kingsbridge market was attacked by William Hamleigh (twice) the church roof collapsed, Tom Builder had to abandon his child and Prior Phillip found himself at the King’s mercy in France. The same sense of crisis was also apparent in The World Without End. With this book there was no real sense of danger for anyone (that I was made to feel for.) So it lacked the drama that made the previous two instalments so damn exciting.

I found myself not caring at all about most of these characters or their lives for that matter. I didn’t know enough about them and when the story started moving they were never really built upon. Rollo Fitzgerald was awkwardly absent for large parts of the novel after initially being set up as a very important character. There were large transition periods between the characters’ lives that we seemed to miss and the story never fully came together as it needed to. Moreover, and most significantly, there was no sense of Kingsbridge community spirit. So that meant when danger did hit Kingsbridge, I yawned.

The romance was weak

Follet’s books are always driven by romance, and this one was no different. But, again, this was a let-down. In this case the initial few chapters on it were perfectly fine; it was set-up as you’d expect it to be. However, the aftermath was somewhat tepid. Where was the longing? Where was the heart wrenching emptiness when the lovers were separated? Sure, it was touched upon; though I think much more was needed to cement the mutual feelings. If this was Jack and Aliana or Merthin and Carris, then all parties concerned would have been beside themselves in agony. Ned and Margery seemed to suck it up and get on with their lives all too easily. And their ending was far too predictable at this stage. I needed so much more for this to work.

Do I think A Column of Fire could have been a good novel? Most certainly. It needed more editing. It needed to be padded out and certain sections expanded upon and revised. All in all, what I think A Column of Fire needed most of all was time, time to grow and become the story it ought to have been. I feel like I’ve just read an early draft of a potentially great novel, most dissapointing indeed.

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Profile Image for Jen CAN.
505 reviews1,486 followers
October 25, 2017
My love affair with Follett goes as far back as 13 years, when I was first enraptured by Eye of the Needle.

Since then, you've tucked me into bed several nights with your fabulous stories of espionage, romance, historical fiction, and oh so much more.

This series makes me sigh as It wraps around me much like a caterpillar In a cocoon. It is fabulously rich in character and plot development and leaves me longing for the next big book you write -especially during the 16th century.
I loved The Pillars of the Earthand World Without End. This one is just as magical.

I won't say much about the storyline - just know If you want to be hypnotized and mesmerized by some wicked historical fiction, Follett is the Man. He is a master at crafting a story with all of its elements of characters, love, relationships, politics, religion/heretics and packaging it up in an epic sized story that will light you up like a A Column of Fire.

And so my love affair continues as I wipe off my drool from having just kissed this book with a whole lot Of ❤️
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews33 followers
May 1, 2022
A Column of Fire (Kingsbridge #3), Ken Follett

Beginning in 1558, and continuing through 1605, the story chronicles the romance between Ned Willard and Margery Fitzgerald, as well as the political intrigue of the royal courts of England, France, and Scotland, and the oft-times violent conflict between supporters of the Catholic Church and the rising Protestant movement in the late 16th century.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز دهم ماه اکتبر سال2019میلادی

عنوان: ستونی از آتش (ستون آتش)؛ نویسنده: کن فالت؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده21م

نویسنده ی بریتانیا «کن فالت»، باز هم تاریخ شهر «کینگزبریج» را پی میگیرند؛ کتاب «ستونی از آتش» رمانی نزدیک به هزار صفحه، و دنباله ای بر رمان‌های «ستون‌های زمین»، و «جهان بی‌پایان» ایشان است؛ سومین اثر از این سه‌ گانه ی تاریخی، که به سال1558میلادی باز میگردد؛ زمانی که «الیزابت تودور»، در گیرودار پشم و همچشمی بین پروتستان‌ها، و کاتولیک‌ها، در «انگلستان» تاج‌گذاری کردند؛ داستان این رمان تاریخی، در نیمه دوم سده ی شانزدهم میلادی رخ می‌دهد؛ زمانیکه «الیزابت» تاج و تخت را به دست آوردند؛ این رمان تشنگی برای رسیدن به قدرت، دام‌ها و فریب‌ها، پیمان و رابطه و توطئه‌ چینی‌های بی‌شمار را، در بستر رویدادهای تاریخی، بازگو می‌کند؛ «فالت» برای نگارش این اثر، از چندین تاریخ‌دان، و مستند‌ساز، یاری گرفته اند، و خود نیز، از چندین مکان تاریخی، پیش از نگارش اثر خویش، بازدید کرده اند؛ «ستون‌های آتش» تاریخ ماجراهای چهارصد سال پیش از امروز را می‌گشاید، اما موضوع آن، وابسته به رویدادهای امروزین نیز هست؛ مذهب، و تسامح در برابر ادیان، دو چرخه ی بنیادین این رمان تاریخی هستند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 06/05/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 10/02/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Matt.
3,821 reviews12.8k followers
October 14, 2017
Ken Follett again took a lengthy hiatus before penning this third novel in the series, which is reflected in the writing and shall be discussed below. Kingsbridge, with its cathedral and mighty bridge, again proves to be the initial backdrop of this thoroughly researched tome, set in the 16th century. The great community emerges in the opening pages of the novel, where the reader encounters Ned Willard, returning after a period away. As the snow falls, causing the great Cathedral to disappear, the symbolism of quick changes becomes apparent. However, there is more brewing in Kingsbridge and England as a whole, which pushes the narrative into a fiery discussion soon enough. Queen Mary Tudor is on the throne and has turned the country back to its Catholic foundation, which is causing some concerns amongst her subjects. Forced to flee Catholicism under Henry VIII, people took up with the new Church of England and sought to pave the way for Protestantism in the country. Kingsbridge monastery, so important in the first two novels, lost its firmament under the King and the monks were dispersed. However, as Queen Mary appears to be terminally ill, there is talk of the succession. Two camps emerge: those wanting continued Catholicism turn to Mary, Queen of Scots (and France); and those who seek to lessen the constraints of religious conformity turn to Princess Elizabeth Tudor, half-sister to the current queen. The battle lines are drawn and the choice turns the country against itself. Ned finds himself in an odd position as he witnesses this and takes up a post with the Elizabethan camp, only to become one of her most trusted advisors. Plots to kill Elizabeth emerge alongside attempts to get Scottish Mary to return to the land of her birth to claim what some feel will rightfully be hers. When the Queen dies, it is left to Parliament to make the choice, which Follett illustrates as being highly controversial and problematic, but Elizabeth soon ascends reigns as the first of her name. The new Queen riles up everyone by seeking tolerance and acceptance of any form of Christianity in England, choosing not to side with either Protestants or Catholics wholeheartedly. What follows is a collection of stories that emerge throughout Europe, using a handful of characters who illustrate the religious persecution of both Protestants and Catholics, using the Pope and various monarchs to play Christian chess with their subjects as they shed blood to see their branch of the religion succeed. Ned is placed in a position to not only try to win back the love of his life, but to accept fate and try to reinvent himself, while England is being torn apart. Follett illustrates this battle over decades, while the characters evolve but still have time to prove as scandalous as ever (what would a Kingsbridge novel be without some drama?!). By the end, Follett has shown that religious intolerance is by no means a new thing in the world, but that it can be traced back centuries, where ‘soldiers’ were blinded to acceptance and sought to outmanoeuvre their labelled enemies. A sensational addition to the Kingsbridge series, though it does not entirely fit with the other two novels. Fans of historical fiction will surely love this tome, alongside the most open-minded and ‘tolerant’ Kingsbridge series fans. Patience is a must before tackling this novel, so be wary if you seek a quick story and easy to decipher characters.

When I read the preface to Pillars of the Earth, I learned that Follett was not entirely comfortable with the subject matter when he first wrote that book. He knew little of the religious nuances of the Church, but has shown that age and dedication to research have changed his abilities. While I have some issues with this book, I cannot deny that the research and thoroughly intricate cast of characters make this one a must read for dedicated readers and fans of history. Follett is again forced to use scores of characters to flesh out the story, some pulled from the history books and others completely of his own imagination. As with the previous two books, occupations are varied, as are the social standings of those who grace the pages of this book. However, the characters from history dominate and thereby lead the story, forcing the ‘nobody’ characters to fall into line. There is still a thread of love, romance, rape, and deception, but it proves to be a garnish in a larger story that speaks of intolerance at a time when religion in Europe was (d)evolving. The dedicated reader will surely find a few characters onto whom they can latch and find some solace, though there are an equal number who can be hated for their actions. The story of this novel is well developed and presented in a methodical way, such that the reader can see not only the issue at the core of the story, but its fermentation over the decades. This leads me to my primary issue with the book, which is that it does not fit nicely into how Pillars and World Without End places Kingsbridge at the centre. There is action in Kingsbridge and the Cathedral does bear mention on occasion, but a great deal of the story takes place elsewhere, which lessens the impact of the community that readers have come to love. For Follett fans, the influence of his recently completed Century series is blunt in this narrative and plot development. Follett develops mini-stories throughout Europe, presenting characters who exemplify the religious issues in Spain and France, as well as in England, the attentive reader will remember such ‘branch-offs’ over the aforementioned trilogy. The reader learns of these struggles and waits to see how the numerous spheres will come together and eventually meld into a single storyline. While I am not a professional author, I might suggest that Kingsbridge have remained the central focus of the story and Follett show how this continental war and numerous assassination attempts on the country’s monarch affected the locals. Alas, that was lost and Ned Willard, a Kingsbridgean, is the major glue that binds the story to being a part of this other trilogy. With numerous monarchs who flex their muscle throughout to show how Catholicism is the only way, I can easily find justification to have this work for my reading challenge and I can only hope that others will find the thread of my argument and agree. While I found this to be the weakest of the three novels in the series, I still enjoyed it a great deal. I would recommend it to those who have made their way through the others two, in hopes that they will find as much enjoyment in the historical references as I did.

Kudos, Mr. Follett, for such a stellar piece of historical fiction. Some of those threads you left blowing in the wind might make for an interesting fourth novel, though I am not pushing for another round, unless you’re eager to return to Kingsbridge proper.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #3: A Book About Royalty

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...
Profile Image for James.
Author 20 books3,724 followers
May 7, 2018
I've reviewed ~575 books in the last few years and don't often give out 5 stars. I can be a bit stingy as I want the book to just completely knock me over. Ken Follett is one of few authors who consistently impress, excite, and satisfy this thirst. The Pillars of the Earth came very close. World Without End hit the mark and is one of my top 5 all-time favorite books. In the third book in the Kingsbridge series, A Column of Fire, I am again thoroughly exhilarated and awarding 5 stars. I do think World Without End is slightly better, but this was superb on so many levels. I'm doubly blessed as I won this book through a Goodreads Giveaway and my blog followers selected it as my April 2018 Book Bucket List read. It was also a buddy read with a wonderful friend.

At the outset, this is a book covering the impact on several families and towns throughout Europe during the religious wars in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. From Spain to Europe, Scotland to England, and even parts of Africa and the Caribbean, this book tracks the various changing of the guard under Henry VIII's daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, as well as other claimants to the throne, Mary of Scots and James I. Some are Catholic. Some are Protestant. Who will win? History knows, and many readers familiar with these facts know. But it doesn't spoil the beauty of this absolutely stunning series of novels by Follett. He's crafted an amazing set of towns, families, bonds and rivalries over a period of 60 years in this particular third novel where the tides turn every 5 to 10 years, or every 100 to 200 pages (yes, it's nearly 1000 pages long). Your heart breaks. Your eyes bulge. People could be horrible. They could be kind. Persecution in the name of religion truly happened, and while some find this book taking advantage of history to present drama... my response is basically -- Umm... yeah, it's historical fiction and that's the point. If you want a 100% accurate book, go read a non-fiction account.

With a tome of this length, my review could go on forever. I plan to keep it shorter than that. Ned Willard is the protagonist, and the novel follows his life from a teenager to a 70-year-old man through which time he has many lovers, wives, friends, and family. He is one of the most respectable characters I've ever met in a book, and while he certainly does a few things that I'd consider wrong by today's standards, he was a visionary nearly 500 years ago. His treatment of others despite their beliefs, gender, race, or status were fantastic. He acted the act when he needed to but always to achieve a goal to ultimately help people. And he suffered... more than any man should.

If you've never read Follett before, you are truly missing out. If you've not read this 3-book series, you are missing out. It's nearly 3,000 pages in total, but you don't have to read all 3. You can choose just one and read them out of order. They're set about 100 years apart, so you may miss a few details and connections, but nothing to throw you off. I'm going to be in a book daze for weeks. And maybe years since I don't expect him to write another one in the series, but if he does, it will be at least 5 years based on the last few. This makes me sad. But I can always re-read them. And I will. They are that good. Seriously... who chooses to re-read 3000 pages again?

Huge amounts of plot and drama. Sometimes you'll think "that's just too much" but truly.... much of this ACTUALLY happened. It may have been different characters or a slightly different order. But people were cruel back then. They killed for no reason. Religion was a mega prompt for doing bad things. (Hey, wait, that happens today, too...). So in theory, this is such a statement about people and life and the lessons we fail to learn century after century. But for the most part, I look at this as a way to step into a different world, one that fascinates me. I forget any true facts I know about the life of these monarchs and pretend it's all new to me. It makes me smile. I rush to the book each night to devour more pages. And I gush... because this was a buddy read with my friend Noriko in Japan. I can't wait to catch up with her about this again!

I'll end here not because I am out of things to say, but because I have so many more books to read. And I'd rather chat about it than extend my review. So if you've read it, message me. Would love to discuss Follett with ya!
Profile Image for Dana Ilie.
404 reviews353 followers
August 17, 2018
Yet again another masterpiece.....

Ken Follett follows The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End with a tale of espionage, political intrigue and extreme faith during a time of never-ending religious conflict. Full of adventure and suspense, A Column of Fire is an inspiring and thrilling portrait of one of Europe’s most perilous times in history.

It is a journey not only through place but also through a dazzling number of key historical events. Beginning in 1558 and continuing through to 1606, with a nod to 1620 in the epilogue, the novel includes the death of Mary Tudor and the accession of Elizabeth I, the Bartholomew Day massacre, Mary Queen of Scot’s execution, the Spanish Armada and the Gunpowder plot as well as the personal fortunes of a huge cast of characters, both real and imagined. Follett’s research is meticulous, as his readers would expect.
Follett is a master of historical fiction, with meticulous research, adept storytelling and an ability to capture the reader’s interest with colorful, smooth language. As captured in his previous books in the Kingsbridge series, Follett’s characters are lively, full of emotion and relatable, making the book’s length of no great concern for old fans or new readers alike.

A Column of Fire is a cold winter’s night, big pot of tea and bar of chocolate comfort book and there’s plenty of space in the world for that. Just one health warning: don’t try and read it when you’re sleepy. With the paperback review copy weighing in at over a kilo (I couldn’t resist), this is not a novel for dropping on your nose.
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
903 reviews1,816 followers
July 31, 2019
Phew!! I struggled from the start to finish, and am glad that it is over. I didn't like it. Unlike the first two books which were centered around the characters and their struggles, this was about Catholics and Protestants, two decade long fight between Elizabeth and Mary for the throne.

The first two books were more about the characters and their strife to survive each day. I elated in their small victories, felt sad in their pain, but here I didn't connect with the characters. Reading this felt like I was reading about the battles that took place between England and France in late 1500.

I guess I was expecting something as exciting as the first two books but I was very disappointed in this story.
Profile Image for Jason.
207 reviews72 followers
October 26, 2017
It seems the consensus among Kingsbridge fans is that A Column of Fire is their least favourite. I agree.

Forgive my corniness, but A Column of Fire just didn't have the flame the previous two books in the series had.

Ken Follett, one of the best-selling authors in history, has never been considered as a spectacular writer. This holds true again in this latest novel. Follett writes quick-paced scenes. His sentences remain as stilted as ever. His words are rigid, and perhaps this evens gives a certain flavour to the historical novels. But for me, it makes it a bit of a tough slog to get through some 1000 pages or so. Of the three Kingsbridge novels, I had the hardest time getting through this one; as you may notice, I took me nearly a month and a half to complete it.

Why? There are two main reasons this book didn't hold up to the previous two novels.

1. Kingsbridge itself. The city, made famous by its cathedral, is largely absent in this book. One of the things that made the previous two books spectacular was the way Follett weaved his knowledge on cathedral building into the books. In this book, the cathedral itself is only really mentioned a couple of times. To Follett's credit, he does effortlessly weave historical knowledge into this book, but it has more to with the power dynamics of the world at the time.

2. Character. Unlike the previous books, I really didn't care that much about these characters. In particular, the Ned-Margery arch didn't really work for me. I didn't feel that these two people cared enough to be together; I also didn't feel that they cared enough when they couldn't be with one another. Further, I didn't despise some of the "bad guys" like I did in the other novels. Perhaps the main antagonist in the novel is Pierre, but I just didn't loathe him like I wanted to. One of the things that made Pillars and Without End work were the dramatic conflicts between the good and bad. Column struggled with that.

I found myself wanting to see more of the Barney and Rollo story-lines, but found they were lacking. I think the book could have drawn more on those story-lines to increase the tension and conflict throughout the narrative. But, since we didn't see a lot of Barney and Rollo, their two story-lines felt almost arbitrary and random. Part of me thinks we only saw Barney go to the "New World" because it is setting us up for a book or series where Follett takes us to the New World with a whole new cast. Column of Fire might have needed another thousand pages to do it justice.

Column jumped too quickly in spots. There would be chapters upon chapters where the narration is well-paced. Then, all of a sudden, we jump ahead a year (or in some places ten years) and certain characters are dead and married to new people. I found it hard to get on board with accepting the rationale of this at times. Also, people fall in love just too damn fast in this novel (ie Ned and Sylvie). It's a bit unrealistic.

Largely, this major fault of the book was its scope. It was too expansive, too spread out over a large geographical area, for the reader to really get involved in the characters. It ventured too far outside of Kingsbridge, which is where the heart of this series is.

Perhaps it's time to retire Kingsbridge. Perhaps it's time to sail across the ocean to the New World.

See this review, and others on my blog. You can also read my short stories there. https://jasonramstad.wixsite.com/mysite
Profile Image for Tim.
2,183 reviews212 followers
August 2, 2019
"Religious hypocrisy" may be a better title for this long, tortuous, brutal, murdering and warring legions under the guise of Catholics and Protestants. While I admire Ken Follett as an author, I despise this story. 1 of 10 stars!
Profile Image for Debbie W..
762 reviews570 followers
December 31, 2021
This book was a real struggle for me to get through. I so wanted to like it, especially since I loved the first two books in this trilogy, The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, but this story fell flat.

True, Follett has his usual cast of good vs. despicable characters, but I was annoyed that all the "good" were Protestant, and all the "evil" were Catholic. On top of that, I didn't feel any affinity for the "good guys", except for a tiny bit near the end (2 pages) about Margery. The protagonist, Ned Willard, really irked me as a "know-it-all". I read in disbelief how Follett's fictional characters, especially Ned, were so instrumental in creating history during the reign of Elizabeth I and shortly after (e.g. the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, the capture and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Spanish Armada invasion, the plot to assassinate King James VI). Also, I questioned some historical events. Am I wrong, but wasn't Catherine d'Medici more politically conniving than portrayed in this book?

I so wanted to go back to Kingsbridge, interact with the characters, and root for the good guys! Instead, I felt this story to be a boring, and at times, inaccurate history lesson. Mr. Follett should have stopped at Book 2.
Profile Image for Beata.
756 reviews1,157 followers
July 17, 2023
I was encouraged to continue with The Pillars since a new book is out soon. I can't say I loved A Column of Fire but I did like it. There are too many characters that remain at the end of the book precisely at the point where they were when it began. There are too many historic figures to my liking and not enough Kingsbridge itself. The listening marathon went smoothly thanks to Mr Lee's narration and I am happy I am ready for September.
OverDrive, thank you!
Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,028 reviews373 followers
April 11, 2021
Se Isto é Religião?!

Esta obra recordou-me (e já vão entender porquê) um excerto duma cantiga de Chico Buarque que soa mais ou menos assim:

"...mesmo quando minhas mãos estão empenhadas em torturar, trucidar, matar...meu coração fecha os olhos e, sinceramente, chora!..."

Será religião queimar em fogueiras, torturar e massacrar?!...

Aonde é que estão a paz e o amor pelo próximo que toda a religião apregoa?!...

Foram múltiplas as guerras a que os caciques religiosos se entregaram. Esses anjos negros fardados de clérigos violentaram a religião, desventraram-na e espezinharam-lhe o coração. Mumificaram-na, reduzindo-a a uma farsa hipócrita!

Mais uma grande obra dum mestre do romance histórico.
É sempre um prazer aprender história com Ken Follet 💖🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟💖
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews709 followers
October 23, 2017
I did it, or should I say Ken Follett did it? He managed to in nine hundred and six pages, to continue the story he started two books ago with The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. Amazing to me is that Mr Follett not only wrote this many pages, but also so aptly filled those pages with a story that was hard to put down. If you loved the first two books in this series, you are going to be in love once again.

In this novel, the year is 1558 and religious strife is tearing the country, its people, and its ruler apart. The antagonism between Catholics and Protestants is at a fevered pitch as Queen Mary, also known as Bloody Mary, tortures and kills those who want to take Christianity in a different direction that of being less ostentatious, less mercurial, and more dedicated to the simplicity of worshiping God. Elimination of priests, bishops, and clergy living off the poor, of statues, of the richness of the trappings within the Catholic Church is the goal of this new faith.

A new queen is about to assume control. Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Vlll and Anne Boleyn is to become queen. She is a Protestant who will try to balance the faiths that seems to pit neighbor against neighbor, family against family, and encourages so many secrets, lies, and deaths. The ultra Catholics despise Elizabeth and will try over her years of reign to do away with her and reestablish the Catholic faith as the faith of England with an overwhelming desire to place a Catholic monarch on the throne.

Ned Willard and Margery Fitzgerald are two of the main characters who love one another and wish to marry. However, their opposing views on faith splits them apart. Ned decides to work for Princess Elizabeth and when she ascends the throne, Ned takes on the role as her protector and does so as a kind of agent tracking down plots, assassins, and those who wish Elizabeth harm and death. Ned and Margery drift apart and even though they are desperately in love, that love is doomed. Ned becomes more embroiled in the plots against Elizabeth while Margery marries another forced to give up Ned. As the times and the story continue many characters both real and imagined by Mr Follett create a wonderful telling of the Elizabethan Age. He interweaves the happenings of the times into the story line and makes this novel a true work of fiction seem quite real.

Along the way in this sprawling novel, we meet many characters both good and evil who want to impose their beliefs on all and who do not believe in the word tolerance. They will have their way no matter how many lives are lost not caring about the cost and toll their intolerance will bring upon the people. It was a turbulent time and the fact that it was caused by religion seems unimaginable. Yet, does it really judging even today by the intolerance we oftentimes see by religious fanatics who, just like in these Elizabethan times, murder, plunder, and kill in the name of their God.

This is Ken Follett at his best tying all the characters together both those that were historically real with those of his imagination. I was super excited to read this book in the Kingsbridge series and so very happy to say that I was not disappointed at all.
4 reviews
September 17, 2017
I'm a huge fan of Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. After only two chapters of this book I am hugely disappointed. It is difficult to believe that Ken Follet wrote this book. The language is juvenile and the vernacular is very modern and western. I'll continue reading and hope for some improvement.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
January 23, 2018
I was very familiar with this time period, the religious wars in France and England, the Spanish Inquisition. So much bloodshed, killing in the name of the Lord. A huge cast of characters, no character list provided, took quite a while to remember who was who, this is a very lengthy tome. A fantastic portraying of the history of this time period. Yet, for me frustrating as well. In his effort to cover so much ground, in different areas, he sacrificed character development, and made the various threads difficult to smoothly follow. I would get involved in one story, and then switched away to another. By the time we return to the other thread, it was hard to once again engage

Yes, he can write. Some graphic scenes of the violence and horror of this time.. So many schemed for power, conspiracies, spies, it all here. So read it for the history, and though I always had a few favored characters, they were not really fully fleshed, it was hard to actually get z handle on their personalities. In the end, for me, it was just okay.
523 reviews15 followers
May 19, 2017
I was asked to review this by Nudge and was thrilled 28 years ago I read the first book - Pillars of the Earth on holiday and was blown away. 18 years later saw the author then bring out the long awaited World without End and 10 years later I am sitting here with the third instalment. The book although a long time coming is worth the wait. I was given one of a limited edition numbered book proof of 1240.

This is a spy story with Elizabeth the first reigning in the sixteenth century. As ever Ken Follett's attention to detail in his writing and historical research is second to none. This author is meticulous and this adds to the readers enjoyment of another epic novel.

In this period we are still in Kingsbridge and moved on from the black death and the hundred years war, the descendants are still living dramatic and harrowing lives. This time in the Elizabethan age religion, espionage and love on differing sides. We get entangled with the characters Ned and Margery love and being on differing sides of religion. Readers who know their history will know as the story progresses Mary Queen of Scots with her supporters trying ti rid Elizabeth from her throne and ultimately the demise of Mary. What Ken Follett does effortlessly is weave a wonderful story in and around with fact and fiction. This is the author's gift.

The story is as brutal as it is historical with characters the reader will recognise and some they will not, facts they will know and others they will not.

The book is divided into four parts which breaks this into manageable sections - it is a huge read of over 750 pages, but certainly worth the wait.

As the book ends the reader wonders whether there could be another book, on two continents.

I thank the author and Macmillan publishing for allowing me to review this book.
Profile Image for Dave Edmunds.
284 reviews80 followers
March 17, 2022
"His memory formed the library of the house. He could pick out any volume and instantly be transported to another place and time."


Initial Thoughts

Column of Fire is the third installment in the magnificent Ken Follet's epic Kingsbridge series. The first two were absolutely amazing and although they're huge, each of them a one thousand page beast, they're so worthwhile. A real soap opera in the middle ages that really become your life. Two of the best books I've ever read.

Ken Follet is an absolute master at blending spellbinding fiction with actual history. In each book he packs about fifty years of history into one thousand pages. It gives you the chance to learn something while having immense fun. A bit like having an illicit affair with your hot history teacher at school. Only better! Hopefully more of the same with this one.

The Story

While Pillars of the Earth and World Without End were centred around ambitious building projects, Column of Fire gave me a look at the battle for religious freedom taking place in western Europe during the late 1500s. We have a completely new set of characters to get to know, with a few being related to previous characters.

"‘Nothing is permanent, except change."

It's Christmas 1558 and the main protagonist, Ned Willard, returns to Kingsbridge after a trip to Calais at a time of extreme upheaval. The Protestant killing queen Mary Tudor has popped her clogs and a new queen is set to take the throne. Cue Queen Elizabeth I with notable competition from Mary Stuart.

Religious tension is fueling a conflagration of hatred and Follett uses this to really branch out far beyond Kingsbridge and add aspects of a spy thriller to the narrative. When Elizabeth finally is crowned queen and quickly becomes public enemy number one with all the other countries in Europe (no spoilers here we all know our history) she sets about building the first secret service by installing a network of spies to protect her royal ass. Of course amongst all this drama and political intrigue we have a pair of extremely unlucky lovers that look like they're just not meant to be. It wouldn't be a Kingsbridge story without that.

The Writing

Ive said before, Fallett's style is basic and at times tends towards telling, as oppose to showing, particularly when it comes to the emotions his characters are feeling. The language is simplistic, particularly when you've just finished reading Cormac McCarthy. I always feel like he could demand a little more from me when taking on his prose.

"We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral. It is the usual place for executions. After all, if you can’t kill a man in front of God’s face you probably shouldn’t kill him at all."

However, his strengths lie in his research and attention to detail and being able to frame a rivetting story within it. I've read a number of interviews with the author and he spends at least a year researching a book before he even writes the first word. That's not just reading history but making field trips to museums and places of interest. He also employs historical scholars to fact check his work. So you know your reading the real deal with Follett. You're not just getting a fantastic story but a real slice of history.

Ken Follett on set

Follett also talks about how he gets ideas for plot points when he visits historical locations and walks about them. The research itself gives him ideas for scenes and he does not put finger to typewriter before knowing exactly where his story is going. It really shows as despite being huge his stories are constantly moving. Indeed a rule he works by is that the story must turn every four to six pages to keep the reader interested. That's a lot of twists and turns in a thousand page doorstop.

The Characters

Follett is a firm believer in having the story prepared before developing his characters and he moves these briskly along through fifty eventful years. In this time we see births, deaths, marriages, murders and all types of backstabbing.

Ned Willard is the central character and is somewhat of a sixteenth century James Bond as he heads Queen Elizabeth's network of spies. His relationship with Margery FitzGerald provides a slower paced version of Romeo and Juliet as they battle away on opposite sides giving the reader a central narrative that flows from start to finish

As with all of these Kingsbridge books, there's lots of character arcs to follow but all keep moving in a realistic way and his villains, notably the intriguing but extremely devious Pierre Aumande, are well devised.

Final Thoughts

Column of Fire is a big book whichever way you look at it… and a massive commitment if you're planning on reading the whole series. A massive mountain of drama that is jam packed with history and epic conflict with some of the biggest personalities of the time. It really is the next best thing from getting in a time machine and going back in time. But a hell of a lot less dangerous. Follett's passion shines through every page and it is an absolute joy to read.

"The city had been ready to explode with hatred, waiting only for someone to ignite the gunpowder. Pierre had merely struck the match."

The ending is worth noting as it's very bittersweet. It finishes by leaving a very interesting avenue open if Follett chooses to take it. I for one would love to see that happen as I'm certainly not through with this series yet. Now I've finished it, it's easily one of the best I've read and it will always have a place in my heart...if I had one!

Although I've not given this one full top marks, as you can tell I enjoyed it hugely and it definitely holds its own in this amazing series. It was just not quite as gripping as those first two books in the series. So I had to have something there to demonstrate that so 4.75 ⭐'s it is. Thanks for reading. Cheers!
Profile Image for NILTON TEIXEIRA.
893 reviews306 followers
October 10, 2021
How ambitious! How exciting!

How compelling! What a masterpiece!

As Bill Sheehan of The Washington Post said, Follett uses the tools of popular fiction to great effect, illuminating a nation’s gradual progress toward modernity.

I know that this one was not everyone’s favourite of The Kingsbridge Tetralogy.

Some of my friends were a bit disappointed, and that’s why it took me so long to start this book, which was sitting on my shelves since its release, but I absolutely loved it!

The Pillars of the Earth remains one of my top ten favourite books of all time.

World Without End is my second favourite book of these series.

The prequel, The Morning and the Evening, also impressed me immensely.

With this one I had the pleasure of reading and at the same time listening to the audiobook narrated by Jon Lee. I can’t express how satisfied and pleased I was with the combination. It was an amazing and joyful experience, hence my five stars.

Ken Follett is, without any doubt, a magnificent storyteller and a superb writer.

His books may be massive, but thanks to his writing style, every book has a perfect flow and every page is full of fascinating (and evil) characters, details and surprises.

You can find anything within the pages: romance, murder, rivalries, betrayals, politics, mystery, religion, sex, just to name a few, and plenty of drama.

With this book he covers the years from 1558 and 1620, considered one of the most turbulent and revolutionary times in history.

The storyline is simply terrific and so well developed.
It’s structure may not please everyone, as within the same chapter the location changes from England to France to Belgium to Caribbean and so on.

The fictional characters (I would have loved more depth for each one) are skilfully presented and perfectly inserted within the historical characters.

Religion is in my opinion the biggest evil here.
What a conflict between tolerance and fanaticism!
The atrocities committed in the name of the church were unbelievable. So much hate between Catholics and Protestants. To be burned alive just for being Protestant!

People of today complain about lack of freedom, but they really have no idea how it was back then. As for myself, I’m glad that I’m living in the 21st century.
Anyways… I just can’t praise this book enough.

I’m not a history buff, so I cannot comment if any of the events were accurate, but I have never picked a fiction book with the intention of learning anything, so If you are looking for accuracy this may not be the right one, but if you are just looking for a form of entertainment, then you are in it for a fascinating trip.

Although I still need to finish the Century Trilogy, I’m anxiously waiting for his next book, “Never”, a mystery thriller and historical fiction, being released next month.

There is a scene in chapter 24 that I did not think was necessary. A kind of public entertaining that involves 6 dogs, a horse and a monkey. Short as it is, it is a cruel one.

At the end of the book there is a list of all real characters, but none for the fictional ones.
If you are one of those readers who needs a list, check Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Colum...
Profile Image for Simona B.
898 reviews3,009 followers
October 30, 2017

“Sometimes Ned felt he lived in a rotten world.”

I haven't read World Without End yet, but according what I've gathered from the reviews I've seen and my experience with the wonderful The Pillars of the Earth, A Column of Fire seems to be significantly different from both its predecessors. The most heard complaints are, as far as I know, the weakness of the romance and the lack of depth when it comes to the characters, most likely due to A Column of Fire having a much wider scope than the first installments in the Kingsbridge series.

I believe both complaints to be incontrovertibly well-grounded. I challenge anyone to say Ned and Margery's story is as epic as Aliena and Jack's, or as dreamy, or as beautiful... or as unrealistic.

I'm not completely cold-hearted: I have cheered for Jack and Aliena them just like you all did. I even like them more than I like Ned and Margery, but only because I didn't connect with Margery as a character; if I must consider the romance alone, then I loved them both equally. Because Aliena and Jack make you dream, but Margery and Ned represent what would most likely happen, which means that they make it even easier for the reader to empathize with them. So I don't believe that in A Column of Fire the romance is actually weaker: I believe it is simply shaped on a different vision of love. And different doesn't necessarily means worse. Whether readers will be able to like it as much depends on what they're looking for and what they expect from a Follett book. I'm just saying it shouldn't be considered as an objective flaw just on principle.

As regards the wider scope, again, I completely agree, and again, it really depends on what you want from the book. The world depicted in A Column of Fire is much, much wider than the one of the first two books, more complex, more dangerous, and obviously, the focus must shift to accommodate this. In coming to terms with this change, I believe I was helped by my indestructible love for the other Follett historical series, The Century Trilogy, which I still like better than anything else I have read by him. The XX century is a terribly complex, composite period, and only true genius could make sense of it in such a fluid, gripping way of such a variety of people, countries, ideas, movements, conquests and atrocities; but Follett did it.

This is why I believe much of the experience of the writing of that trilogy went into the writing of A Column of Fire as well, and I also think this broader approach came into play in the Kingsbridge series just at the right time, as it probably (and very effectively, in my opinion) reflects the change that must have occurred in people's world view with the rediscovery and colonization of the Americas. It is true that in that trilogy, Follett generally does a better work with his characters than in A Column of Fire, but ultimately not so much as to annoy me; in fact, personally, I have no complaints at all.

Moreover, A Column of Fire roughly spans the year of the Europeans wars of religion, by which I am deeply and equally fascinated and repulsed. So it was kind of an easy win with me.

Long story short, you must be aware that you won't get from A Column of Fire what you got from The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, because a lot of things happened in the years between the end of the latter and the beginning of A Column of Fire, and Ken Follett, according to my interpretation of the whole thing, chose to represent these changes with a narrative strategy he deemed fit. I am more than happy with his choice, which I find clever, thought-provoking and careful. The only thing I can suggest is, be unprejudiced and go for it.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,252 reviews235 followers
September 27, 2022
“We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral”

Whether or not Ken Follett’s decision to present his history of the Reformation in a light that presented Queen Elizabeth I as a marginally tolerant monarch who believed that nobody should be executed on the basis of their religious beliefs is correct is an open question. In any event, A COLUMN OF FIRE, Follett’s fictionalized version of the growth of Protestantism in Europe out of the interpretation of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in 1507, is at once entertaining, gripping and educational. High school history was never like this!

While Follett may have treated Queen Elizabeth’s conduct with unwarranted kid gloves, his view of organized religion as violent, self-serving and utterly despicable is entirely obvious. Witness the following (and these are FAR from the only examples):

“When a man is certain that he knows God’s will, and is resolved to do it regardless of the cost, he is the most dangerous person in the world”. Today’s evangelical Christianity movement in the USA, the heir apparent to 16th century Puritans who evolved from early Protestantism, demonstrate the obvious truth of such an aphorism. How about this one?

“The simple idea that people should be allowed to worship as they wished caused more suffering than the ten plagues of Egypt.” Not because they shouldn’t be allowed to do so, of course. The violence arose out of those previously mentioned zealots who claimed that knowledge of God’s will and were determined to ensure that everyone worshipped in THEIR way.

And what the devil is this all about?

“… then, to make it worse, the Pope had sent a letter of congratulation to the king of France.” In an eerie foreshadowing of Kristallnacht, the Nazi introduction of the Final Solution and their attempt to exterminate Jews and Judaism, French Roman Catholics attacked and killed an estimated 30,000 Protestant Huguenots during a slaughter that is now called the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. And, far from decrying such untoward violence, Pope Gregory XIII sent a letter to King Charles IX of France praising the killing and pronouncing it to be God’s will. It is to simply make one weep.

By any standards, A COLUMN OF FIRE, logging in at 909 pages, must be called a doorstopper. But there’s tons of grade A meat to chew on – the Reformation; the politics of the imprisonment and the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots; 16th and 17th century spycraft and international diplomacy; England’s war with Spain and the defeat of the Spanish Armada; Guy Fawkes’ attempted destruction of England’s House of Parliament and failed assassination of King James I; the persecution of the Huguenots in France and the mirroring intolerance of Roman Catholics in England; the growth of the hardcore Puritan movement and their decision to take their beliefs to the New World – and it’s all juicy, tender and flavorful and presented with a story-telling panache that only an author of Ken Follett's skill could have managed.

An exciting and worthy follow up to the book that laid the corner stone to Kingsbridge Cathedral, PILLARS OF THE EARTH. Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Pauline.
777 reviews
October 14, 2017
'A Column of Fire' by Ken Follett. I loved 'Pillars of the Earth' and 'World Without End' so I had high hopes for this book but I think I was put off by the fact that I had read a lot of historical books about this period so it was rather boring to me. I did engage with a couple of the characters and found parts of the book interesting.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,106 reviews748 followers
March 19, 2023
The Reformation was a time when religion was front and center in national, social and personal identity. It was so important that it was common practice to kill those who held incorrect beliefs. The concept of tolerance was generally an abhorrent thought because it suggested that correct religious belief wasn't absolutely important and true. This book is a historical novel about a time when toleration of religious diversity was beginning to take hold during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. But true toleration was still a ways off in the future. In my opinion it was not a good time to be alive.

The story moves through 50 eventful years of Reformation history beginning in 1558 during the reign of Bloody Mary of England and finally ending with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. An epilogue carries the story forward to 1620. History has provided Follett with some spectacular dramatic moments during these years, and he takes full advantage by recreating them with a historian’s eye for detail and a novelist’s gift for narrative suspense. Follett makes sure his fictional characters are present at and playing key roles in all the significant historical events of the second half of the sixteenth century.

Among the more dramatic interludes are the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, in which Parisian Catholics murdered thousands of Huguenots (French Protestants); the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, an act that sent shock waves throughout Europe; and the miraculous defeat of the Spanish Armada by a much smaller force.

Some other lesser know historical events described in this book include the following listed items (not complete):
1. Spanish Inquisition and its secular use to end business completion
2. Marriage of Mary Stuart (aka Queen of Scots) to Francis, Francis, Dauphin of France, and the official witnessing of its consummation
3. The accidental death of Henry II of France
4. The Massacre of Wassy
5. The assassination of Francis, Duke of Guise
6. Riot in Antwerp that stopped the burning at the stake of a 14 year old girl who refused to recant from being Protestant. (not sure this is historical)
7. Mary Queen of Scots escape from Scottish imprisonment and fleeing to England (and eventual doom)
8. Papal bull issued by Pope Pius V declaring Queen Elizabeth to be a heretic and releasing all her subjects from any allegiance to her
9. The assassination of Henry I, Duke of Guise

Any readers who are prejudice in favor of Catholicism will not find much comfort in these pages. Most of the villains in this story are Catholic. The Puritans represent the extreme of the Protestant side, but within this time period they were not politically powerful.

Follett uses the tools of popular fiction to great effect, illuminating a nation’s gradual progress toward modernity. The central theme of the book is the ongoing conflict between tolerance and fanaticism. In Follett’s hands, that story becomes a fascinating narrative.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,510 reviews855 followers
July 15, 2023
Would have been better had it concentrated on the people of Kingsbridge. For me it turned into ‘just another’ book about Elizabeth and Mary. I enjoyed the first half but got bogged down in the second. It was a long book, but I needed more about the main characters and less about the wider world. In the early part of the book certain people were set up to be the main characters and then were hardly heard of again. I can’t help feeling that within the bones of this book, is a better one about Kingsbridge.
Profile Image for Nikoleta.
693 reviews275 followers
February 10, 2018
Αρκετά ωραίο αλλά δεν είναι σαν τα δύο προηγούμενα. Προσπάθησε πολύ χωρίς να του βγαίνει αβίαστα...
Profile Image for Sarah.
687 reviews160 followers
September 16, 2017
I'm giving this four stars because in comparison to many other historical fiction books, it certainly deserves that many stars at least. In comparison to Follett's other Kingsbridge novels, sadly, I'd only give it three stars.

There is something magical about The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. In those novels Follett weaves together the lives of ordinary people and makes what might otherwise seem mundane, engrossing. They tell the tales of good vs. evil, the many obstacles on the path to righteousness, the triumphs of either side, and the eventual justice received by all. I love these books. They are the kind of books that stay with you over time and beg to be reread.

A Column of Fire, unfortunately, just doesn't live up to the enormous standard set by the previous two books. The primary problem is that this is not the tale of that triumphant fictional town of Kingsbridge. This is a novel that spans many settings, languages and countries. It takes a look at the beginning of religious freedom in Europe. It did not have the tight-knit feel of small town drama. The enemies were still evil, but they were vast and many and always seemed so distant.

In past books, I was always glued to the page knowing the characters were often going head to head, watching one plan come together and seeing the other characters unravel it piece by piece. There was scheming here, but it often felt impersonal. It happened on a much grander scale and somehow didn't hold my attention as tightly as the smaller, more personal battles of Kingsbridge.

However, there are other things to love about this novel. Sylvie is a strong female character that you can't help but root for. I think her character arc was the strongest and perhaps the most interesting. Whenever the plot switched to her viewpoint, I was thrilled to see what she would do next. She competes with the men on a level reminiscent of Aliena in The Pillars of the Earth. I also loved Ned Willard's storyline. Minor His story was told well and didn't cross lines of implausibility (which I think might have been an easy trap to fall into given the historical setting).

The historical accuracy, to my knowledge, was fantastic and well told. We see the opulent wealth of the Catholic church and French monarchy and aristocracy, religious persecution, naval battles, plays, and traveling acrobatic troupes, and bearbaiting. Follett's portrayal of Queen Elizabeth was fascinating and has me yearning to learn more about her as a historical figure rather than a (semi) fictional character.

I would recommend this to anyone who reads historical fiction and is interested in the 16th century. However, if you have read the previous Kingsbridge novels, I would advise that you do not go into this expecting a third. It's fine as it is on its own, but to liken it with its predecessors will bring, in my opinion, disappointment.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Viking for providing an eARC to review.
Profile Image for Choko.
1,221 reviews2,595 followers
March 27, 2018
*** 4 ***

Ken Follett is not the best writer. What Ken Follett is, is a good observer of the human condition and a very good historical researcher. If you love history and particularly the 16th Century Western European politics and religious wars, this series, and particularly this book is a very good addition to the usual historical fiction variety. For the fans of the Kingsbridge series, this book comes back to the town with the big Cathedral and some familial descendants to the first Tom Builder from the middle ages. It is sad to see how the changes in laws and rulers affected the Cathedral and the population of the town at large. This volume covers the time of the tumultuous rain of Queen Elizabeth and the battle of the Catholic and Protestant religions for the souls of the citizens of the West.

"... "In the eyes of the church, the Bible was the most dangerous of all banned books—especially translated into French or English, with marginal notes explaining how certain passages proved the correctness of Protestant teaching. Priests said that ordinary people were unable to rightly interpret God’s word, and needed guidance. Protestants said the Bible opened men’s eyes to the errors of the priesthood. Both sides saw reading the Bible as the central issue of the religious conflict that had swept Europe.”..."

It is brutal. As in the years preceding every change of religion throughout the historical timeline, the established philosophies and the ones challenging them go through a dance of give and take, of debate and bloodshed, and of obsession and disillusionment. Mr. Follett brings the reality of the time in a very realistic and relatable manner, although he puts us more in the observer's role, thus letting us have the emotional separation needed to be able to get through a hefty and merciless read like this one. The history has never been a bone of contention with me, nor is the way he is able to show so many sides of the conflict and numerous ways people perceived and dealt with them. It is the writing. I still have an problem with the way he is able to cover such breath of complex issues, while he is more than shallow when it comes to characters and their interactions. As readers we are affected by the horrors of the reality, but we are not truly allowed to be involved with any of the characters, be them "good" or "bad" guys. We react to the actions, but the characters are a bit flat, the villains being supper evil and the good guys being mostly good and with clear and justifiable motives. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I really believe that a bit of a personal touch to their characters while interacting would go a very long way and be worthy of the scope of the work he already does so well.

"... “We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral. It is the usual place for executions. After all, if you can’t kill a man in front of God’s face you probably shouldn’t kill him at all.”..."

Ned Willard is the main protagonist and a protestant who works for the Queen. We see a span of at least 50 years through his eyes and I have to say, I enjoyed him, but I was not "in love" with him. Honestly, as much as I feel separated from him, he is still the one I could understand and cheer for most out of all the male characters up to now in the series. Out of Margery and Sylvie I preferred Sylvie, the Paris Huguenot, but I understood Margery as well. Overall, I was engrossed in the story from beginning to end and am glad I got to read it. For those who love Follett, he delivers exactly what we have come to expect from him. If you want to read this book, but have not read the previous ones, I think it is completely fine to be read as a standalone. It is full of religion, politics and action, so it does have a lot to offer.

"... “Perhaps we’ve done enough.” Sylvie was shocked. Her mother had never talked this way. Isabelle noticed her reaction and said defensively: “Even God rested on the seventh day, after he made the world.” “Our work isn’t finished.” “Perhaps it never will be, until the Last Trump.”..."

Now I wish you all Happy Reading and may you always find what you Need in the pages of a Good Book!!!
Profile Image for ChopinFC.
273 reviews79 followers
August 2, 2019
A Column of Fire caps off a perfect ending to an immaculate and masterful series.

The Kingsbridge series has been nothing but a masterpiece in storytelling, and historical enlightenment! In this latest entry, Follett focus his attention in diverging European religious and political ideology in a devilish entertaining way. At the height of European transition from medieval period into 16th century ‘modern’ time, we see some of the most tumultuous conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. Follett explores this religious tension to the maximum, with a story that is laced with unforgettable characters and exceeding moments of love and conflict while maintaining historical accuracy.

“When a man is certain that he knows God’s will, and is resolved to do it regardless of the cost, he is the most dangerous person in the world.”
― Ken Follett, A Column of Fire

Follett covers a widely unstable time in European politics after 1558, all seen through the eyes two lovers Ned Willard and Margery Fitzgerald. During that time, the throne of England inherited by the more progressive Elizabeth of Tudor, who unlike her older predecessor sister Mary Tudor, did not believe of burning ‘heretics’ for prescribing to a certain faith. Unlike Mary, Queen Elizabeth believed in religious tolerance and acceptance, despite being a Protestant herself.

“Might there come a time when people of different faiths did not kill one another?”
― Ken Follett, A Column of Fire

At the heart of A Column of Fire, lies the tale of two lovers Ned Willard and Margery Fitzgerald. Follett is brilliant at telling historical events through vivid and unique characters- making the story that much more appealing! The main protagonist ‘Ned’ is a balanced Protestant, and becomes one of the main advisors for Queen Elizabeth. Yet his love interest, ‘Margaret’ is a stout Catholic, thus setting up a constant dissonance and tension between both lovers, despite their passion for one another.


Ned Willard and Margery Fitzgerald

Follett narrates the events of the religious time so perfectly! He takes the reader on a whirlwind of historical events, but writes it in such a captivating and engaging manner, that I was left speechless in some moments of the book! The breadth of information and meticulous details are a testament to his historical acumen and preparation for this series. From the Bartholomew Day massacre to Mary Queen of Scotts execution, the Spanish Armada and the Gunpowder plot as well as the personal fortunes of a huge cast of characters, both real and imagined. The results are quite astounding, especially as Follett is able to organically blend it all together in the end!


English fleet vs Spanish Armada

Ultimately Follett dazzles the reader with his God-given talent as a storyteller. I know I’ve praised him plenty in previous books ( Pillars, Eye of Needle, etc.),but his narrative ability to is so engaging, and that is reflective throughout multiple moments in A Column of Fire.
Follett has the uncanny ability to convert a topic that is generally dull and rather thick into something magical, and indescribably entertaining. The ability to infuse passion, tension and emotion into historical events is quite demonstrative of his skills as a writer.

Kingbridge Series is his Follett’s magnum opus, with ‘Pillars of the Earth at the helm. This latest entry blew me away with the breadth of historical accuracy, and written in a such a persuasive and entertaining manner that left me speechless at times! My favorite historical fiction series of all times :)

5 Stars
Profile Image for Anne Goldschrift.
326 reviews403 followers
October 3, 2017
Ich muss ehrlich sagen, dass ich mich mehr darauf gefreut habe, als es mich letztlich überzeugt hat. Ja, die Geschichte war toll, aber eigentlich hatte es so gar nichts mehr mit Die Säulen der Erde zu tun. Weder inhaltlich oder zeitlich, noch vom Gefühl beim Lesen.
Es ist interessant, einen so großen Überblick über den Konflikt zwischen Katholiken und Protestanten zu bekommen, aber es war mir einfach irgendwann zu viel. Zu viele Zahlen, zu viele Personen, zu viele Beziehungen, zu viele Zeitsprünge, zu viele Längen im Buch. Oft musste ich mich motivieren, überhaupt weiterzumachen, weil es sehr sehr zäh wurde.
Leider nur 3 Sterne.
Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
January 29, 2018
Yes, I have done this many times:watched a man die knowing that I, more than anyone else, had brought him to his just but dreadful punishment. I did it for my country, which is dear to me; for my sovereign, whom I serve; and for something else, a principle, the belief that a person had the right to make up his own mind about God.
He was the last of many men I sent to hell, but he made me think of the first...

Well, my hats off to Mr. Ken Follett on another fantastic historical fiction that I gorged myself on this quiet Sunday night. When I heard that Follet was giving his fans a third follow up in the series that began with "The Pillars of the Earth" and continued with "World Without End," I must admit that I wondered what else there was to say about the splendid but angsty Kingsbridge. As I come up for air after 900 pages, I will say that it was definitely a treat to revisit the old stomping grounds.But I found myself nostalgic for the craziness of the medieval period and the building of the cathedral.

Spanning 1558-1620, Follett, like he did with his 20th century trilogy, blossoms outside the boundaries of England and unfolds the tale of European powers and their religious civil wars that waged between Catholics and Protestants. Like the first two installments, there is political intrigue, young lovers thwarted, villains and heroes, and just down right cruel members of the clergy. But I missed my beloved cathedral that just didn't get enough of the limelight.

Although a more extensive character list would have been much appreciated, I do acknowledge that the back of the book has a list of the real historical persons that travel the pages.
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