Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Fall of Giants is an epic work of historical fiction by Ken Follett. It is the first installment of a planned three part trilogy. This book is set in Europe from 1911-1925. Follett follows the lives of five families in England, Germany, Russia, and the US. The story primarily focuses on three topics – the rise of socialism/bolshevism, the First World War, and women’s suffrage – that are chronicled through the actions of these families. I am not even going to attempt to summarize the plot (see publishers weekly summary here) but suffice to say that the major historical events in this time period are included.
Historical figures (George V, Wilson, WWI generals, Wilhelm II) interact with the fictional characters in realistic ways. This is a time period with which I have some familiarity and I was impressed with the depth and accuracy of the historical research included in this story. Follett provides a full review of the Russian Revolution providing detail that I think many readers will find new. His depiction of the Russian nobility particularly as it contrasts with the English nobility points out why the revolution in Russia was more extreme that the rise of socialism in Britain. The story resonated with me when Follett spent some time in developing the background. I thought the section on the Welsh coal miners was excellent, giving the reader a realistic view of the terror that was coal mining in the early 1900s. Also the parts on trench warfare in France told through several of the characters experience were very well done and will remain with the reader.
It really is a great retelling of early 20th century events, very readable and epic in scale. So why did I not love it. This is usually just my kind of book. I think my problem was in the character development or lack thereof. With few exceptions - Billy Williams, the Welsh coal miner, his sister Ethel and Lady Maud Fitzherbert - I just didn’t really care about what happened to them. Most of the characters were flat and clichéd. All of the characters acted in predictable ways and even though they experienced tumultuous events no character growth is seen. Compared to Follett’s work on medieval England (Pillars of the Earth and World Without End) this first book of the trilogy left me a little disappointed. So in summary I’d rate this 3.5 , great story not so great characters.
Side note I read an advance reader copy that was huge – 4.5 inches thick, I am rethinking a kindle purchase!