Ken Follett’s ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ is a stunning work of historical fiction that has captured the hearts of millions. Its intricate plot, diverse characters, and the meticulously researched historical backdrop have all contributed to its enduring popularity. But what if you’ve turned the last page, closed the book, and find yourself yearning for more? This is the charm of historical fiction. It draws us into different eras, allowing us to live among characters whose experiences are both distinct from our own and universal in their humanity.
The purpose of this blog post is to guide you on your next literary journey. We’ll delve into a collection of books that possess qualities reminiscent of ‘The Pillars of The Earth’, books that offer you new landscapes to explore, new characters to love (or despise), and new historical periods to learn about.
Get ready for your next adventure!
Essential Elements in ‘The Pillars of the Earth’
In-depth Historical Context
‘Pillars of the Earth’ takes us on a grand journey to the 12th century, and it’s the painstaking attention to historical detail that makes this journey feel authentic. From the political intrigue of the period to the social customs and daily lives of the people, Ken Follett has created a rich tapestry that pulls the reader into the world of the past.
Complex, Engaging Characters
Whether it’s the ambitious master-builder Tom, the resourceful and strong-willed Aliena, or the cruel and power-hungry William Hamleigh, the characters in ‘Pillars of the Earth’ are deeply layered and complex. They carry the narrative, giving it its emotional depth and human touch. Their trials, successes, loves, and losses make the novel’s historical and architectural themes feel personal and relatable.
The multiple plotlines running through ‘Pillars of the Earth’ are intricately woven, each contributing to the larger narrative and complementing the others. The cathedral’s construction, the Hamleighs’ schemes, the love story between Tom and Ellen, and the struggle for power all intertwine in a way that keeps readers engaged and invested in the story.
Rich Architectural and Cultural Details
Follett’s detailed descriptions of cathedral architecture not only demonstrate his deep research but also serve as a metaphor for the careful construction of the novel itself. Beyond architecture, ‘Pillars of the Earth’ is steeped in the cultural and societal norms of the time, providing an immersive experience that makes the reader feel part of the era. This level of detail extends to everything from the clothing and food to the prevailing beliefs and values of the time.
Books with Compelling Historical Context
‘The Name of The Rose’ by Umberto Eco
Set in a wealthy Italian abbey in the 14th century, ‘The Name of the Rose’ is a riveting mystery centered around a series of strange deaths. Eco’s mastery of the period’s details—from the politics of the Church to the architecture and atmosphere of the abbey—creates a vivid and immersive backdrop for this intriguing tale.
‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel
Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ paints a complex and compelling picture of Tudor England, seen through the eyes of the enigmatic Thomas Cromwell. The author meticulously recreates the political intrigue, religious turmoil, and daily life of the period, offering readers a front-row seat to one of the most tumultuous times in English history.
‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak
In ‘The Book Thief,’ Zusak brings Nazi Germany to life through the eyes of a young girl, Liesel Meminger. Amid the horrors of war and the Holocaust, Liesel’s story is a powerful reminder of the human spirit’s resilience. The author’s vivid portrayal of the era — its palpable fear, loss, and hope — stays with the reader long after the book is closed.
Books with Complex and Engaging Characters
‘A Game of Thrones’ by George R.R. Martin
‘Game of Thrones’ plunges readers into a richly woven world of noble families, political alliances, and supernatural elements. Martin’s characters are multifaceted and unpredictable, each with their unique ambitions, weaknesses, and motives. The unpredictable nature of these characters makes the story compelling and continually surprising.
‘The Thorn Birds’ by Colleen McCullough
McCullough’s ‘The Thorn Birds’ is an epic tale of the Cleary family spanning three generations. The characters are vibrant and complex, particularly the lead, Meggie, who wrestles with forbidden love, societal constraints, and family expectations. Her struggle, resilience, and growth anchor the story, making the book a memorable read.
‘Gone with the Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell
Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era, ‘Gone with the Wind’ features some of the most iconic characters in literature, including the headstrong Scarlett O’Hara and the dashing Rhett Butler. These characters, with their passions, flaws, and contradictions, create a narrative that’s both a love story and a vivid depiction of a nation in turmoil.
Books with Interwoven Plotlines
‘Shogun’ by James Clavell
‘Shogun’ transports readers to feudal Japan in the 1600s, where we follow the journey of an English sailor who becomes deeply entangled in local politics and culture. With its complex network of subplots—ranging from political power plays to star-crossed romances—’Shogun’ is an intricate saga where every thread plays a vital role in the overall narrative tapestry.
‘World Without End’ by Ken Follett
A successor to ‘The Pillars of the Earth,’ ‘World Without End’ revisits the town of Kingsbridge two centuries later, during the time of the Black Death. With a new cast of characters and multiple intertwining storylines—covering themes from plague to war, from religious conflict to social upheaval—this book offers another satisfyingly complex narrative that Follett fans will love.
‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas
‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ is a tale of betrayal, revenge, and redemption. Its narrative is filled with numerous subplots that gradually interweave and culminate in an intricate and satisfying whole. Whether it’s the story of Edmond Dantès himself or the myriad characters he encounters, every plot thread is meticulously crafted and vital to the story’s overall arc.
Books with Rich Architectural and Cultural Details
‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ by Irving Stone
Irving Stone’s biographical novel about Michelangelo transports readers to the heart of the Italian Renaissance, with its in-depth exploration of the artist’s life and works. Just as ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ delves into the construction of a cathedral, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ presents detailed portrayals of Michelangelo’s masterpieces, infusing architectural and artistic details into the narrative.
‘The Hunchback of Notre-Dame’ by Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo’s classic is not just a tragic tale of unrequited love—it’s also a love letter to the Notre-Dame Cathedral itself. The author’s detailed descriptions of the cathedral and its construction add depth to the story, and the vivid portrayal of 15th-century Parisian life creates a rich tapestry of culture and history.
‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
‘The Great Gatsby’ may not delve into architectural details like ‘The Pillars of the Earth’, but it excels at presenting the cultural details of the Roaring Twenties. From Gatsby’s extravagant parties to the opulent homes and lifestyle of the characters, Fitzgerald’s novel gives readers an immersive look into the glamour and excess of this historical period.
We’ve traveled through time and across continents with this selection of novels, each presenting its unique characters, historical contexts, and intricate plotlines. From Umberto Eco’s enigmatic abbey to the court of Tudor England in Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’, from the vast landscapes of George R.R. Martin’s Westeros to the tumultuous backdrop of the American Civil War in Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone with the Wind’, each book offers a captivating journey in its own right.
Encouragement to Explore the Depth and Breadth of Historical Fiction
If you’ve enjoyed ‘The Pillars of the Earth’, these titles will provide you with similar experiences of deep immersion into different eras and lives. Each book offers a journey through time, letting you traverse unfamiliar terrains, explore unique cultures, and meet compelling characters.
Final Thoughts on How These Books Capture the Spirit of ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ in Their Own Ways
While no book can replace ‘The Pillars of the Earth’, these selections capture its spirit in their own ways, be it through rich historical detail, complex characters, intertwined plots, or intricate cultural and architectural descriptions.
As a reader, you’re on an endless adventure, and these books are just the next stops on your literary journey.