World Without End is billed as the sequel to Pillars of the Earth, but you don’t need to read the first one to understand the second (you should anyway though–it’s pretty good). World Without End takes place two centuries later, in the same priory of Kingsbridge. The great cathedral built by Prior Phillip is starting to fall apart, and now a new student of masonry, Merthin, is trying to figure out why. The book revolves around his quest to understand buildings, as well as his desire to create a new bridge for the priory.
Over several decades, we follow Merthin (basically Jack the Builder from Pillars of the Earth), as well as his sociopath brother (Ralph, who reminded me quite a bit of Jack’s stepbrother Alfred) and his girlfriend Caris, who rejects the monks’ idea of medicine and longs to pursue her own.
Like I mentioned in the character profiles, there’s a lot here that’s reminiscent of Pillars of the Earth. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing — Follett expands on these characters and makes them interesting all over again. The historical details in these novels are always fascinating, and I was personally fascinated by a man who was focused on building something to last centuries, as opposed to more modern buildings that are slapped together and fall apart after a few decades. Caris’s pursuit of medicine, savvy in business and her rejection of religion at a time when you could be hanged for it made her a pretty interesting character as well. And as always, there’s plenty of backstabbing and deal making among the monks and royals to enjoy.