Everyone wants to grab the brass ring at some point in the life, and I think this book is Ken Follett's try at literary history. It's a somewhat engaging piece of history – a medieval stone mason – his family beset by various trials most of us would capitulate to. But through typical English pluck Tom the Mason manages to work on a magnificent cathedral. If Follett had let this much of his overlong book rule his word processor, the piece might have carried him toward the pantheon of the greats. But, alas, I think the author has overreached.
His book is some nine hundred pages long, but he fails to give us the feel of his history's panorama. He introduces us to some hundred characters, but we gain no sense of spectacle, only the play of petty minds behind the chip-chip of Tom's stone chisel.
Follett has been a successful – artful at times – master of the suspense thriller. We often forgive such genre writers their lack of writerly chops, because we buy the story. Sadly, the author, as he prepared to write this book, didn't take himself to the writer's woodshed, where he could've sharpened his game to true literary quality.
Perhaps my expectations were too high, but the story is often mired in soap opera messiness, the history and Tom's potentially great character lost in the verbiage. As a result, I had to take myself to the woodshed each day – in order to finish the book. In the end, I'm sorry I persevered.