Review: The Column of Fire by Ken Follet - 5/10*
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.