Book Review: Ken Follett’s A Column of Fire is a Bit Burnt Out
I expected more from Ken Follett’s A Column of Fire. Spies in Elizabethan England seemed a deadly combination. Since the sequel to Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, was also powerful, I thought this one would be too.
The earlier ones in the Kingsbridge trilogy had strong women characters, which was partly why I liked them so much. This one didn’t have too many women of note, aside of course from the queen.
Catholic Margery’s piety put me off. She didn’t do much aside from romance, unlike Aliena in Pillars of the Earth and Caris in World Without End, so I kept losing my patience with her. Sylvie Palot came into her own later.
We didn’t get inside Elizabeth’s head, so she remained a distant figure. Quite a few of the characters seemed copy paste jobs from ones in the earlier books in the series. The book seemed ghost written, narrating history in parts without ever quite coming alive, like the Century trilogy.
I’ve studied Elizabethan England, so it was not novel, although I didn’t know spies played such an important part in her reign. A Mata Hari type figure would have livened things up.
Some characters were grey, which made them spicier. Since the theme was spies, I thought a spy would be the hero, but there were many and more anti-heroes. Ned Willard is a competent hero, if not a dashing one. Pierre Aumande is a good villain.
For a book ten years in the making, it was a letdown. There was too much focus on religion. It’s difficult to believe today Catholics and Protestants were at each other’s throats so much.
The Spanish Armada part was riveting. Didn’t know the details about that. Neither about how Mary Queen of Scots plot to overthrow Elizabeth was outed. Reading up, these true portions seem fictional, they’re so thrilling!