Thursday, November 05, 2020

The Evening and the Morning, Ken Follett's epic prequel to The Pillars of the Earth

Over a century before The Pillars of the Earth, the future English cathedral town of Kingsbridge is a mere hamlet with a stone church, ferry, alehouse, and a scattering of humble buildings. Follett’s supremely entertaining prequel centers on the locale known then as Dreng’s Ferry – named after a surly business owner – and the city of Shiring, while dramatizing their inhabitants’ interactions around the first millennium CE.

Three plucky protagonists have ambitious dreams that set them apart. Edgar, an illiterate boatbuilder with an engineer’s mind, loses his lover to a brutal Viking raid and works to raise his family out of poverty. Lady Ragna, the Count of Cherbourg’s daughter, leaves Normandy to marry her wealthy betrothed but is dismayed by her new life’s reality. And a monk, Brother Aldred, seeks to develop his abbey’s scriptorium and library into an educational beacon. However, with political influence held by a trio of wily brothers and their relatives, anyone stepping outside their societal role risks having their hopes, indeed their very lives, crushed. Wynstan, Bishop of Shiring, is a notably formidable nemesis.

Bursting with personality and detailed re-creations of daily life in historic England, this story is vintage Follett. Anyone who loved Pillars will want to scoop it right up. The characters, while belonging to their era, are recognizable types that make it easy to identify with or hiss at them. The momentum never flags, an impressive achievement in a tome that sprawls in length but not setting or time. Two pervasive themes are the corruption of power, and how average people have few choices. King Ethelred is a distant presence, and justice depends on leaders’ personalities and whims. Slave girls suffer particularly violent fates. It is frustrating to see our heroes’ plans so frequently thwarted, but one can’t help but read on, hoping for a better future – as the evocative title signifies.

The Evening and the Morning was published in the US by Viking in September.  The UK publisher is Macmillan.  I reviewed it from a NetGalley copy for November's Historical Novels Review.  At 928pp long, the e-version was easier on my wrists/hands, and the story moved quickly.  If you're feeling frazzled with all the election drama, rising Covid rates, and doomscrolling on social media, this book will make a good distraction. Hope you're all holding up OK during these stressful times.


  1. I relished The Pillars of the Earth. Follett does not forget to chronicle the lives of common men and women. Evening and Morning sounds like a must-read for me.

  2. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did! You're right about his not forgetting about common men and women. He makes sure to include people from all walks of life and social classes.

  3. My husband is reading this right now, almost finished. He's a reader that will react out loud to events in his books and he's making a lot of noise with this one! Our copy is promised to a friend, but I'll get to it eventually. (And then read/re-read the rest of the series?)

  4. I understand - this is a book that will provoke strong reactions at times!