The first novel in his Century Trilogy, Fall of Giants begins with a struggle of the working class in Wales (miners, to be exact) as they strive for better wages and working conditions. The bosses are a combination of the aristocracy and the newly rich, made so because of the industrial revolution. Billy Williams is a 13 year old boy, sent into the mines for the first time. His father is a union leader and sister, Ethel, works as housekeeper for Lord Fitzherbert. As Follett develops his saga, the Williams’ and the Fitzherberts become entwined with all the excitement of romance, cruelty, politics and war.
Ken Follett knows how to write a novel that captures the interest of his readers. He broadly uses stereotypes in his books, and Fall of Giants is no exception. The heroes are those that fight for injustice, and the wealthy, the church and the conservative politicians are villains. I did enjoy the point of view of those that opposed their countries entrance into World War I. Often that is left out of novels. However, I would have preferred a more balanced presentation. His characters that wanted to fight were often bullish or used narrow-minded reasoning.
Follett also showed, through example, why the idea of socialism was growing in popularity across Europe. In England and Russia, his “hero” characters supported Lenin and the Bolsheviks. When signs of Lenin’s tyrannical rule started to appear. the attitude was “oh, Lenin is disappointing, but still, socialism is the way to go.” Again, a little balance would have been helpful.
What I took away from this novel is that things are rarely black and white. England is very, very fortunate that reform, rather than revolution, gave way. As history has proved, making improvements to it’s Capitalist system, is far better than the socialism suffered by people in the Soviet Union or in China.
I did enjoy this one and am looking forward to reading the sequel, Winter Of The World, next month.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2010