30 October 2012

Review: Century Trilogy by Ken Follett

Few people can write a good saga like Ken Follett. Because I was huge fan of his cathedral books, which took place in 12th-century England, it was an absolute given that I'd read his new Century Trilogy. And it was sure bet I'd listen to John Lee narrate them.

Rather than try to give you a summary of the 20th century, I'm instead going to talk about Ken Follett's Fall of Giants and Winter of the World in general terms. These are very complex novels (although easy to follow) of the major shaping events of the last century. I'll say right up front that they're wonderful, everything a sweeping saga should be.

Fall of Giants starts at the turn of the last century and focuses on several families and specific people in Russia, Germany, England, and the United States. The characters are from varied socioeconomic classes, have distinct personalities, and individual politics. They are mostly in their teens or 20s, and although representative of types of people, they are not stereotypical.

Thus Follett's core characters span the Western world. Two brothers are trying to survive revolutionary Russia. Two brother-sister pairs in England and Wales are from different sides of the tracks. Both families have strong feelings about politics, social welfare, and upward mobility. In America, we meet rival families from Buffalo, New York: one in politics, one in business. And in Germany, the wealthy von Ulrichs, natives of Berlin, are involved in national politics, local business, and international diplomacy.

These characters--along with their families, friends, and associates--cross paths in tangled ways. Friendships are formed or torn apart thanks to social situations, political divisions, and World War I. No one comes through the turbulent early decades of the century unscathed.

Winter of the World follows these same families, friends, and associates from the 1930s to the late 1940s. As we learn their fates, the story is picked up by their children and other members of the next generation. Using the unique perspectives of his diverse characters, Follett recounts the most important events of those decades: the Spanish Civil War, Hilter's rise, the increasing power of USSR, World War II, the development of the atom bomb, and the Marshall Plan.

Follett is a master at allowing his characters to grow and change, fall in and out of love, make reckless choices, be smart and then be stupid. I had become so invested in the characters that my heart broke as they suffered the horrors of war or the unfairness of their fate. I rejoiced at their weddings and births, and I cried at their deaths. Needless to say, I can't wait for book three.

A brief word about the audio editions. Well, two words: John Lee. Lee's voice is a perfect match for Follett's words, and his wide range of emotions, pitches, and accents help bring the characters to life. Because of the cast of hundreds (see these lists for proof: Fall of Giants; Winter of the World) a strong narrator with extremely consistent vocalizations is needed. Lee nicely rose to the job. Fall of Giants is almost 31 hours and Winter of the World comes in at about 32 hours; both audios were produced by Penguin Audio.

Buy Fall of Giants at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Penguin USA / NAL Trade, 2011; ISBN-13: 9780451232571
Buy Winter of the World at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Penguin USA / Dutton Adult, 2012; ISBN-13: 9780525952923
Source: Bought (Fall of Giants); review (Winter of the World) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).


Sandy Nawrot 10/30/12, 10:46 AM  

I will never forget Pillars of the Earth...I read this mammoth while I spent 6 weeks in England on a job assignment. Talk about a book coming alive! Then I listened to World Without End on audio. Again, fabulous. I had heard that these didn't quite measure up, but your description of sweeping sagas tempts me. And I love John Lee. That is a lot of discs...like taking on Outlander!

Zibilee 10/30/12, 11:01 AM  

My uncle gave me the first book in this series, and it's a chunkster! I think audio is the way to go for both of them, and I will be looking into it since I have some spending money at audible. I thank you for not spoiling the books while giving us a great recap on them!

Meghan 10/30/12, 2:42 PM  

I have both of these now and as a result of your review I'm really looking forward to reading them! I'm glad they measure up to Pillars of the Earth. For all its inaccuracies, it was a great read. :)

bermudaonion 10/30/12, 3:12 PM  

I have Winter of the World and think maybe I should get Fall of Giants to read first.

Julie P. 10/30/12, 3:32 PM  

One of my blogging regrets is that I feel like I have to post every day. As a result, I hesitate to pick up chunksters. I just know I'd love this series.

Nise' 10/30/12, 3:40 PM  

I listened and read Fall of Giants and plan to do the same with Winter of the World. I have the print and will get started reading while waiting for the audio at the library. Loved the cathedral books too.

grammajudyb 10/30/12, 5:08 PM  

I read Fall of Giants last summer for my local book club's summer read. I liked it alot. The plan is to read Winter of the World, this summer 2013. Maybe I sould look into the audio to read along. I especially like to do that. Thanks for the review.

Jenners 11/1/12, 4:15 PM  

I'm stll trying to finish the Cathedral series!

Andi 11/2/12, 2:53 PM  

The boyfriend is listening to Winter of the World now. He really enjoyed Fall of Giants and whipped through the audio in no time. He's having a harder time with Winter only because of some of the harsh imagery. Still good though he says. I put the Cathedral series on a wishlist I'm sending with him to a library sale this weekend. lol

Marg 11/12/12, 9:17 PM  

I know I should read Ken Follett, but I just haven't got to it yet. I will one day, probably with these books but I just need to clear some time.

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