Yes, I know I'm a bit late to the game with this review. I buy books like this from the Los Alamos Friends of the Library's second-hand bookstore, which has them at the right price, like a dollar.
I struggled through far too many coincidences, cardboard characters given the sheen of the detail and repetition needed to fill 973 pages, numerous rapes, all written identically, and technical details (Jean Gimpel gets an acknowledgement) to prove that Ken Follett has done his homework. And then tied with a pretty bow that puts the unadulteratedly evil villain at the head of the bunch that killed Thomas Becket.
I was most surprised at how badly it was written. My automatic editing function, a necessity for blogging, kept going into overdrive, rewriting awkward sentences, correcting words badly used, and removing anachronisms in which the characters spoke or thought like twenty-first-century people. Making a good book would have taken much longer.
It seems to me that James Michner, who did this encyclopedic sort of thing, was better, but I would have to reread one of his books to verify that.
I did want to fact-check the ending (no prizes for Follett there), so I read some history, which was not too far on the shelf from T. S. Eliot's collected works. So I read "Murder in the Cathedral" too.
It's much better and covers the same material (less the technical stuff, at which Gimpel is better, and not as much about women's roles) in less than 50 pages. Better character development and devoid of those unbelievable coincidences, too.
Update: Speaking of T. S. Eliot, here's someone who is no longer intimidated by "The Waste Land," thanks to modern electronic gizmos. I guess I like my poems better open-ended.
And, in a similar vein, Bloomsday is sometime this week. I'm never quite sure of the date.