Historical fiction is probably my favourite genre of fiction. Taking something that’s actually happened and putting new people in it just appeals to a history nerd like myself, and, honestly, there’s no better historical fiction writer than the fabulous Ken Follett.
Follett, for the uninitiated, made a name for himself pretty earlier on in his career with his knack for World War II thrillers but has, on occasion, written books outside of those perimeters. Fall of Giants is one of those books. Unfortunately, Follett may have gotten in over his head with Falls of Giants, and, in this review, you’ll learn why.
Fall of Giants is a massive, epic of a novel that covers the first thirty years of the 20th century through the eyes of five families from different social backgrounds and different countries. We, as the readers, watch the families deal with important issues like worker’s unions, women’s rights, the First World War, and the beginning of the depression.
The Century Trilogy–Fall of Giants being book one of three–follows five families and this is where Follett really let me down. He usually has such strong, well-rounded characters, but in Fall of Giants he’s so concerned with what’s happening in the countries around the characters and not the characters themselves. As an example, the Russian family (two brothers named Lev and Gregori) deal with things like a corrupted royal family and poverty because they’re Russian. Sure one of the brothers is selfless and believes in Russia and one of them is selfish and cares only of money and sex and that’s about it. Follett does nothing to expand on them to make them likable. It’s the same deal with the other four families: an American family from old money, a British family from old money, a Welsh coal mining family, and a German family from–you guessed it–old money. It’s like Follett is trying to create some kind of allegory with his characters instead of just writing characters!
The locations in this novel are just as flat and lifeless as the characters. What happens within the countries are things that actually happened in history and Follett is usually a great writer with history but that’s when he’s focusing on one main character. All the history in all the countries with all the characters is overwhelming and often just plain boring. Take for example the years of World War I. Some of the characters fight in it and it’s interesting–Follett writing about war always is–but when it switches over to a character who is not fighting in the war but instead campaigning for unions or running a night club, who cares? It takes away from the action and romance and the sex–which means it takes away everything Follett is renowned for!
Follett could have done something really awesome with Fall of Giants, but I think he got a little over eager. He dove head first into a story that’s too much–too much for him or for any other author for that matter. There’s too much history happening all at once and too little character development too support it all.
My final thoughts on Fall of Giants are that it’s a jumbled mess of information and characters only partially developed. It really frightens me that Ken Follett–one of my all-time favourite authors–might be losing his touch! Don’t get me wrong, the book is still well written compared to some other authors out there, but by Follett’s usually high standards, it falls way short.