Shorter than his previous bestseller, World Without End (the paperback is over one thousand pages), Fall of Giants opens in 1911, leads up to the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution, wrapping up in the post-War years and concluding in 1924. This hardcover copy from the library weighs almost four pounds and measures roughly two inches or five and a half centimeters thick, which made it a little awkward to read in bed. The book published in 2010 debuted in sixteen countries simultaneously according to Follett’s own Web site, http://www.ken-follett.com/home/index.html. Book Two is due in 2012 and the third in 2014.
As Follett explains at the end of Fall of Giants, the fictional characters interact with real historical figures and he adapts records of actual events. The research for this novel must have been monumental, never mind keeping track of the characters. That list at the front of the hardcover is six pages long. Phew. And all are inter-related.
First up is Billy Williams and his family who live and work in the coal mining community of Aberowen in South Wales. He is thirteen, of age to go down the pit. His 18-year-old sister Ethel works at Ty Gwyn, owned by the Fitzherbert family, namely the Earl who is called Fitz, his Russian wife Bea and his sister Lady Maud.
The prominent Russian characters are two brothers, the older responsible Grigori and the younger unscrupulous Lev Peshkov. From Germany, we have the von Ulrichs, mainly the son Walter. In America, we have the Dewars, particularly Gus who works for President Woodrow Wilson.
To date, Follett has nineteen books to his credit, starting with Eye of the Needle that became an international bestseller when he was only twenty-seven. He went from writing successful thrillers to novels based on history but he kept his story-telling skills in the latter. That means you can expect Fall of Giants to be entertaining. His very impressive Web site actually explains his “Art of Suspense” and how to keep the reader from getting bored with turns that are not too soon and not too late. This story definitely moves along. There’s plenty of action, no surprise considering the time in history, and many entanglements that involve opposing views on political issues such as socialism, conservatism, liberalism and women’s rights as well as personal relationships/events that range from murder to cheating husbands and illegitimate children.
Although Fall of Giants lives up to the author’s reputation for a good read, I thought this book could have used more editing. The ending seemed rather perfunctory, possibly because the story is to be continued in the forthcoming novels in the trilogy. After 236 customer reviews, Amazon rates Fall of Giants only two stars out of five.
My read was done under the pressure of a due date at the library. But I would recommend any Follett book if you’re looking for enjoyment and in this case, have the time to read at a leisurely pace.