In 2007, Oprah Winfrey selected The Pillars of the Earth for her book club. I’d been on a reading kick with Oprah’s selections (it’s how I discovered She’s Come Undone, one of my ultimate favorites), so when she went on and on about Pillars, despite it being 900+ pages, I decided to give it a try.
Never before had I read a book so engrossing about a subject I knew nothing about: the building of a cathedral in the Middle Ages. It was lengthy and hard to read in certain parts because I wasn’t accustomed to so many details about torture and journeying and long-suffering plans to build cathedral by hand and plots to thwart a greedy, power-hungry bishop.
AND STILL I was hooked. I went on to love the sequel, World Without End, and the final in the Kingsbridge trilogy, A Column of Fire.
Earlier in 2020, I heard Ken Follett had written a prequel to Pillars, and admittedly, I was skeptical. A prequel? I mean, I was going to buy it no matter what, but I couldn’t wrap my brain about what topics the book might cover.
Set at the end of the Anglo-Saxon age in England (late-900s), The Evening and the Morning follows three main characters and their respective journeys – Edgar, a boat builder and honest man, Ragna, a noblewoman from France who attempts to build a new life in England, and Alfred, a monk whose efforts to stay true to his purpose is challenged at every turn. Ultimately, this is the story of how Kingsbridge became a town.
Anglo-Saxon England was troubled by recurring Viking attacks, a flimsy legal system, and poor living conditions since all the Romans left behind were roads (which was helpful, I guess). The new band of characters, per usual, have to fight against power-hungry people who use the system for personal gain, leaving bodies in their wake. If you’ve read Ken Follett’s trilogies before (either Kingsbridge or the Century Trilogy), then you know there will be hiccups, obstacles, and heartache.
But there is also triumph. You know something good will come at the end. You just don’t know the journey required to get there. I loved this book. I read it over Christmas break because I knew I’d need the distraction. It worked perfectly.
Disclaimer: Ken Follett gets a lot of grief for some of his love scenes and, alternately, the scenes with sexual assault. You can expect that trend to continue here. Feel free to skim those words.