A Column of Fire by Ken Follett
A few years back, I came across "The Pillars of the Earth" in the take-one, leave-one book library in my unit at the hospital. I'd heard of it, and had it on my to-read list, and I was floored by it. I'd read a fair number of books set in medieval times, but always focused on the nobility, and "Pillars of the Earth" told the story of a peasant laborer, a group of monks, and the local lord. It was deep, raw, exciting, brutal, and made me feel like I was right there, in medieval England, part of the community. I completely agreed with one of the reviewers who said something along the lines of "even at 800 pages, I didn't want it to end." Then, "World Without End", the second book in this series, came along, and was also engrossing, and enjoyable to read, so I had high hopes for "A Column of Fire", eagerly awaiting my turn to read it on the wait list at the library. This book is set in the 1500's and examines the transition of leadership in England from Queen Mary to Queen Elizabeth I, with Queen Mary of Scots scheming in the background. I had read other novels about these three women, and their desperate attempts to hold onto the English throne, which, frankly, I felt were more engaging than this book is. Those first 300 pages were a little slow going, and I debated more than once whether or not to shelve the book. What drew me in, however, was the book's portrayal of the history of the Protestant Reformation, not only in England, but in France, and the Netherlands as well. Ken Follett always does a phenomenal job with his historical research, and has a true gift for bringing that history alive- although I knew religion was at the center of the rebellions and coup attempts surrounding these three queens, I had not realized the depth and breadth of the schism caused by The Reformation. If you can stick it out through the first third of the book, or perhaps if you haven't read other perspectives of these events, Follett delivers again to draw you into everyday British and French life in the mid 1500's. You feel their love, their passion, their disappointment, their fire. You root for the good guys and despise the bad guys. This book is expertly crafted, and I highly recommend it, although would recommend reading all three books to enjoy this third installment to its fullest.