I have to begin by saying that I have been jumping to read this book since June this year and if you’ve been a regular customer of the wordsmith who is Ken Follett, you know you will not be left disappointed! I am glad I chose to re-read The Pillars of the Earth (click here for the review) before I started with this one because I am able to draw parallels more clearly now and even point out the similarities and references linking both stories.
The Evening and the Morning is the mind-blowing prequel to the Kingsbridge trilogy and though it doesn’t exactly end where The Pillars of the Earth starts, you’ll be able to get an idea of how it was like in England when the Dark Ages were slowly coming to an end. This is also a book which comes under the Historical Fiction genre so before we talk further about the book itself, let’s take a little plunge into the Dark Ages.
The Dark Ages is usually referred to the years 500-1000, also commonly called the Migration Period after the dismissal of the term “Dark Ages” by many historians. It’s also commonly suggested that this era in human history saw the least growth in terms of scientific and cultural advancement. It is also a time which was epitomised by extensive increase in Christian missionary activities where the Church heavily relied on priests and bishops – whose exploitation you will witness in The Kingsbridge Trilogy. In the late 7th century, the then archbishop – Theodore founded a school at Canterbury that would go on to become a key centre of scholarly learning in Anglo-Saxon England. Queen Emma of Normandy was also an influential woman who wasn’t part of any religious community but was quite interested in literature. This was also a time when Vikings used to raid coastal towns of England often and are blamed for the lack of scientific and cultural advancement during the time – a reasoning which many historians today will refute. Though there’s a lot of debate over this entire period.
Now with that little idea of what the Dark Ages were like, let’s talk about the humungous book which is The Evening and the Morning. The story revolves around the lives of the three protagonists, Edgar – a boat builder and master builder, Ragna – a noble from Normandy and Aldred – a monk. All three having huge aspirations and of course like every story The Evening and the Morning too will weave a story of their struggles and how they overcome them in an era where there is no clear rule of law, rather certainty of chaos and bloodshed.
Edgar is a young boat builder who helps his father in the same line of business. He dreams of a beautiful future with the love of his life Sunni which all comes crashing down when a Viking raid takes away his love, his father, his home but not his determination for a better future. Ragna is the daughter of a Count who falls in love with an English Earl, marries him and uproots her entire life in Normandy to move to wet and cold England. She finds herself shocked when she realises the love she yearned for was not what she would receive and finds herself betrayed by her own husband’s family. Lastly, Aldred is a young, highly capable monk who dreams of turning his Abbey into one of the largest centres of learning and knowledge in Europe. He too faces many obstacles and finds himself on a path that he didn’t realize he’d have to walk.
If you’ve read some of Follett’s earlier works, then you’ll be familiar with how the basic plot idea will unfold if not being able to predict the details. But that is also the same reason why you know you’re in for a dramatic treat once you start reading this prequel. You’ll be able to realize that irrespective of era and age in human history politics, greed, passion and human barbarism has been (and still is) the driving force in the lives of people.
The book spans across 10 years (997-1006) unlike The Pillars of the Earth which spanned across 50 years (1123-1174). So while you expect the lives, feelings and character build-up to be more detailed, I found that lacking in this prequel. Nonetheless, the story flows like the river as in the book. It doesn’t revolve around building a famous cathedral but rather showed the beginning of ingenious ideas taking birth, the creation of more laws and the beginning of the Middle Ages.
What I enjoy the most about Follett’s books is his brilliant way of writing stories from the point of view of every main character. The evil characters in this story were three brothers – Wilwulf – an earl, Wynstan – a bishop and Wiglem – the youngest brother. Out of the three only Wynstan’s evil thoughts are written in the first person apart from the main characters. What I found most intriguing after having read this book is how gullible humans are when it comes to matters like faith and religion, how men who call themselves God’s servant are usually more corrupt than ones who don’t follow a “particular” faith.
I rate this book 4 out of 5 bookmarks alongside the hope that a production house will pick it up to create a web series for it, which if made properly has the potential of being an amazing show to look forward to. Ken Follett is nothing less than brilliant and while the books may seem daunting at first, it helped me break through my reading slump with its jam packed drama! I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a story with the depiction of power struggle set towards the end of the Dark Ages, though I’d also like to add a trigger warning for rape and violence.
Lastly, I’d like to thank Pan MacMillan India for sending across this brilliant work of historical fiction which was the second book on my TBR as part of the #PanMacHistoricalReadathon!