Review by New York Times Review
Not so long ago, historical epics like "Roots" and "The Winds of War" were perennials at the top of the best-seller lists. Now they have largely vanished, relics of a simpler era when America had but three television networks and novels could sprawl all over the weekend. Fortunately, no one told Follett. "A Column of Fire," Follett's newest novel, is a nearly-thousand-page doorstop focused on the religious wars of 16th-century England, with plenty of detours. The Protestant Reformation has just begun. In France and Spain, the Catholic Church and gentry are desperate to stamp it out. In England, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth faces enemies foreign and domestic, and, despite her promises of tolerance, executes Catholic rebels. As is typical for a historical novel, Follett centers the era's pivotal moments on a small group of invented characters. The most important are Ned Willard, a Protestant who manages a spy service to protect the queen, and Rollo Fitzgerald, a Catholic who spends his life trying to dethrone her. Naturally, Ned and Rollo have known each other since childhood. Naturally, they didn't like each other even then, for Rollo helped stop his sister Margery from marrying Ned. The three, and a host of others, play crucial roles in real events like the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in Paris in 1572 and the British defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. "A Column of Fire" serves as a useful reminder that religious tolerance comes slowly - that Catholics and Protestants once battled each other as fiercely and bloodily as Sunni and Shia. Follett also makes a point of showing how clever aristocrats used Christianity to gain an edge in business disputes. The novel covers so much ground and has so many voices that its characters can sometimes come off as a little less than three-dimensional. To compensate, it gives us what novels rarely do: the bittersweet chance to follow them from birth to death. But the world goes on, in life and in fiction. "A Column of Fire" ends with the promise of a Puritan voyage on the Mayflower. I suspect more than a few of Follett's readers will be happy if he brings them to the New World in his next epic. ALEX BERENSON is a former Times reporter and the author, most recently, of the forthcoming thriller "The Deceivers," to be published in February.
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [December 24, 2018]
Review by Booklist Review
Follett continues the best-selling Kingsbridge series with a fiery tale set in the latter half of the sixteenth century. As in Pillars of the Earth (1989) and World Without End (2007), the cathedral city of Kingsbridge serves as the unifying focal point for a saga that stretches across time and place. As a religious and political war rages across England, two would-be lovers are caught in the unforgiving crosshairs of historical circumstances that spin beyond their control. Fiercely in love with Margery Fitzgerald, Ned Willard finds himself on the the other side of a religious divide tearing friends, family, and the entire nation apart. As Catholics and Protestants square off against one another, a young but determined Elizabeth ascends to the throne, establishing the first royal secret service to protect herself from enemies both within and outside of England. Drawn into a web of espionage and intrigue, Ned is torn between loyalty to the crown and his unwavering love for a papist. As always, Follett excels in historical detailing, transporting readers back in time with another meaty historical blockbuster. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: With the first in the series skyrocketed by the Oprah Book Club pick and a TV series and followed by the megasuccess of the second and a long wait for the third, readers will be avid as ads run and Follett tours the country.--Flanagan, Margaret Copyright 2017 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Treasonous plots, family rifts, and international political intrigue abound in the third installment of Follett's (Pillars of the Earth) Kingsbridge series of historical dramas. In the middle of 16th-century England, Kingsbridge Cathedral stands above a town divided by religious conflict. Queen "Bloody Mary" Tudor is killing Protestants. When 18-year-old nobleman Ned Willard loses his sweetheart Margery and his family's importing business to Margery's upward-climbing Catholic family after the queen condemns them for being pro-Protestant, he decides to join Protestant Princess Elizabeth Tudor's secret service. Ned and Margery's love for each other sustains itself despite decades and miles apart, but can it survive their ideological differences? This sweeping epic delivers suspense, history, and romance in equally satisfying, if sometimes heavy-handed, measures. Follett makes use of multiple winding plotlines and optimistic characters equipped to see any battle through to the end. The novel is an immersive journey through the tumultuous world of 16th-century Europe and some of the bloodiest religious wars in history. Follett's sprawling novel is a fine mix of heart-pounding drama and erudite historicism. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Follett returns to the fictional West Country town of Kingsbridge. It is 1558, and Mary Tudor is not long for this world. Her death unleashes a battle between Catholics and Protestants that dominates this novel, which is set primarily in England and France across five decades. Ned Willard, a moderate Protestant, battles the forces of religious extremism as he works as a spy for Queen Elizabeth I. John Rafter Lee brings a modulated, English-accented sensibility to this story. His character voices add extra vitality to the narration but don't overpower it. VERDICT Recommended for libraries with large historic fiction collections and listeners who like detailed historical narratives. ["Another masterly historical novel that will keep readers enthralled well past bedtime": LJ 7/17 starred review of the Viking hc.]-David -Faucheux, Lafayette, LA © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A flying buttress of a book, continuing the hefty Kingsbridge saga historical novelist Follett began with Pillars of the Earth (1989) and World Without End (2007).It's not that Follett's been slacking between books: he's been working away at the Century Trilogy, set centuries later, and otherwise building on the legacy of high-minded potboilers he began with Eye of the Needle (1978). Here he delivers with a vengeance, with his Kingsbridge story, set in the shadow of a great provincial cathedral, now brought into the age of Elizabeth. Ned Willard, returning from the Continent on a boatload of "cloth from Antwerp and wine from Bordeaux," beats a hasty path through the snow and gloom to the lissome lass he's sweet on, Margery Fitzgerald. Her mom and dad are well-connected and powerfulbut, alas, Catholic, not the best choice of beliefs in an age when Tudor Protestantism is taking a vengeful turn and heads are rolling. Rollo, Margery's brother, turns out to offer good cause for suspicion; having twitted and tormented Ned over the course of the story, he's sailing with the Spanish by the end. But will Ned keep his head and Margery hers? Or, as Margery wonders lamentingly, "Had Ned caught Rollo, or not? Would the ceremony go ahead? Would Ned be there? Would they all die?" Ah, it is but to wonder. Follett guides his long, overstuffed story leisurely through the halls of Elizabethan history; here Bess herself turns up, while there he parades the likes of Walsingham, Francis Drake, and the whole of the Spanish Armada, even as Margery yearns, the tall masts burn, and Follett's characters churn out suspect ethnography: "Netherlanders did not seem to care much about titles, and they liked money." It's all a bit overwrought for what is, after all, a boy-loves-girl, boy-swashbuckles-to-win-girl yarn, but it's competently done. Follett's fans will know what to expectand they won't be disappointed. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.