The Bookshelf: New Additions

August saw many new additions to the bookshelf and I can’t wait to attack the mounting pile of books on my bedside table.

The following three are next up to be read:

1356 Bernard Cornwell

1356 – Bernard Cornwell

Published: 2012
Harper Collins
433 pages
Historical fiction

Known for his meticulous historical detail and impressively vivid battle scenes, Cornwell takes on another historical battle in this novel- the great Battle of Poitiers, 1356. Taking place during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), this was an improbable battle where clever tactics overcame numbers; an army of approximately 6,000 men defeated the opposing army more than triple its size.

I am intrigued to see how Cornwell’s battle scenes compare to others I’ve read and I am expecting good things… ‘The best battle scenes of any writer I’ve ever read, past or present’ George R. R. Martin.

The White Princess Philippa Gregory

The White Princess – Philippa Gregory

Published: 2013
Simon & Schuster
527 pages
Historical fiction

This novel picks up where The White Queen left off, and explores: Elizabeth of York’s relationship with Henry Tudor; Elizabeth’s feelings for the late Richard III; whispers that one of the lost princes is seeking to claim the thrown and of course the difficulties newly victorious Henry Tudor faces when trying to unite the country.

If the other novels in Gregory’s The Cousins’ War series are anything to go by, this novel will brilliantly combine sound historical research with a thrilling plot. I can’t wait to read it.

Son of Blood Jack Ludlow

Son of Blood – Jack Ludlow

Published: 2012
Allison & Busby
446 pages
Historical fiction
Book 1 of the ‘Crusades’ trilogy

11th Century Italy. Power plays. Battle scenes. Norman dominance.

This novel transports the reader back to the heart of a tumultuous time leading up to the First Crusade. Exploring Norman conquests, political and military strategies and the development of Dukedoms in Italy, the novel deals with complex issues. I am interested to see how Ludlow entwines these around the powerful de Hauteville family we know from his previous trilogy, Conquest.

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Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

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World Without End – Ken Follett

World Without End - Ken Follett

Published: 2007, Macmillan, hardback, 1,111 pages
Historical, romance fiction

Setting the scene

King Edward II is dead. His son, Edward III, takes the throne to become King of England, as speculation mounts around his father’s death.

A knight flees to the town of Kingsbridge armed with a sword, a dagger and, perhaps most dangerous of all, a letter. The letter is buried, though its unspecified secret hangs over the novel.

The arrival of the knight brings together four children sworn to secrecy: Caris, Gwenda, and brothers Merthin and Ralph. Over the next three decades their diverse paths remain entwined as each fight for their desires and aspirations amidst injustice and corruption and all against a backdrop of war.

Review

It is the mark of a great storyteller to be able to grip you through 1,111 pages of evidently well-informed, historical drama. Follett masterfully balances the grim realities of the late middle ages – namely, the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) and the Black Death, a plague the likes of which had never been seen before – with fictional tales of love and torment in the lives of enchantingly ordinary, believably fallible characters.

The novel convincingly depicts life at the time, from clothing to politics, to new ideas conflicting with stubborn traditions and religious opposition, and poignant scenes of despair and anarchy brought on by the the Black Death. This is a novel anyone can enjoy regardless of whether they have prior interest in the era because, despite its persuasive treatment of life at the time, the backbone of the novel is essentially the heartrending love story of Merthin and Caris.

The novel spans over three decades from 1327 to 1361 and follows several plot-lines, predominantly surrounding the lives of the four central characters: Caris, an independent woman ahead of her time; Merthin, an honest romantic and genius architect; Gwenda, a savvy, head-strong peasant and Ralph, a brute, unscrupulously climbing the ranks of nobility.

World Without End - Ken Follett

However, the novel has a whole plethora of secondary characters who are equally brilliantly rounded. From the hardworking merchants and the tavern-dwelling townspeople of Kingsbridge, to the struggling peasantry of the surrounding villages and the calculating monks of the Priory, Follett’s skilful characterisation provides the finest feature of the novel. Gwenda is a particularly endearing character, whose unfortunate circumstances leaving you longing for some change in her fortune. Other characters are so corrupt they are contemptible.

Follett’s writing style is relatively informal and easy to read and he has the art of using short sentences to create tension down to a tee. However, we are regularly presented with strikingly descriptive narrative when it comes to Merthin’s architectural commissions. This reflects Follett’s self-confessed interest in cathedrals and, whilst it is admittedly tempting to gloss over at first, you soon realise that the inclusion of such detail-heavy explanations only adds to the vivid presentation of 14th-century life that the novel upholds.

Overall 

Would I recommend this book? Yes
★★★★★

This colossal novel deservedly earns the title of ‘epic’; despite its size, which could be seen as a negative, it doesn’t for one moment feel like an effort to reach the end and instead it is one to truly lose yourself in. This is thanks to Follett’s skilful characterisation and thrilling plot of love, hate, corruption and obsession.

World Without End is a must-read historical thriller.

World Without End - Ken Follett

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