Fall of Giants – Book Review

On the day King George V was crowned at Westminster Abbey in London, Billy Williams went down the pit in Aberowen, South Wales. – from Fall of Giants, opening sentence –

The Fall of Giants is the first book in The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett (the second book in the trilogy, Winter of the World, was just released this month). Covering the years between 1911 and 1924, it is a sweeping historical saga introducing five interrelated families from America, Germany, Russia, England and Wales. Follett did a huge amount of research for this novel and it shows. Dozens of real historical characters appear in the nearly 1000 pages of the book which explores such historical events as WWI, the Russian Revolution, and Women’s Suffrage.

Some of my favorite fictional characters in this chunkster were the women. Maud Fitzherbert is a woman of wealth who is fighting for women’s rights when she finds herself falling in love with a spy in the German embassy in London. Maud is an intelligent, driven woman who knows what she wants. Balancing her secret affair with her duties as the sister of an Earl who is deeply enmeshed in politics, is a challenge Maud confronts for much of the book.

Maud’s housekeeper, Ethyl Williams, comes from a poor Welsh mining family…but she has aspirations far above her birthright. Ethyl quickly became one of my favorite characters as she grew into a strong, politically active young woman.

The male characters in the book are no less captivating. Ethyl’s brother, Billy, takes a central role in the novel as he too rises above his station after going to war overseas. The Russian brothers, Lev and Grigori Peshkov, represent both the immigrant challenges that new Americans faced, as well as the revolutionary spirit in Russia which launched the Bolshevik Revolution. Gus DeWar, an American law student, gives readers a glimpse into the White House and the personality behind President Woodrow Wilson.

I should mention that Follett provides a detailed character list at the front of the novel to help readers keep track of both fictional and historical characters. But, it demonstrates Follett’s effectiveness as an author that I did not find myself needing to reference this list once I was about 100 pages into the book.

Follett juggles his multiple characters and story lines brilliantly through alternating points of view. The novel re-creates the battles of WWI including the horrible trench warfare and the lack of food and supplies which the troops faced. Despite its bulk, I never found the story lines lagging. Follett’s sense of pace and drama are well-honed and speak to his popularity as a novelist.

Fall of Giants provides readers a detailed look at the policies and governments which led us into WWI, as well as the factors which led thousands of Russians to rise up against the tsar and wealthy landowners. The sections on women’s suffrage were slimmer, but no less enlightening. Historically accurate, Fall of Giants also entertains by balancing the historical facts with terrific fictional plots and character interactions.

I thoroughly enjoyed this family and historical saga and purchased the second book in the trilogy last week. I hope to get to it before the year ends.

Readers who love historical fiction and don’t mind carting around a doorstopper, will want to read this novel…but, I warn you, once you have, you will want to read the rest of the books, too.


Have you read this book? The Chunky Book Club is discussing it beginning September 15th, 2012 and continuing indefinitely. Visit this post on the Chunkster Challenge Reading blog to join us!

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    • Susan on September 25, 2012 at 14:33

    Hooray! I was hoping you’d give this a good review. Ken Follett’s books are fun to fall into. I haven’t read this one — but have it on my shelf. He’s a master storyteller!

  1. I keep looking at reviews of this one, but being put off by the size – especially since I just started King’s Under the Dome, which is also huge. But I love sweeping historical saga – the way you describe it reminds me of Leon Uris’s work – he did the multiple storyline, multiple character thing so well in books like Exodus and Trinity. So, this one will have to go on the to-read list!

    • zibilee on September 26, 2012 at 07:11

    I’ve read his other works, and do want to read this one at some point as well. I think I have it here, and if not, your review certainly gives me enough ammunition to go and buy it if I can! Very nice review!

    • true on September 27, 2012 at 16:47

    My book club read this when it first came out and loved it! Such a great book and so glad we agree;-). We are going to read his new one for our long read between Nov. and January and I cannot wait!

  2. I so want to read this. I struggle with fitting chunksters into my reading routine becuase they’re so hard to take back and forth to work on my train commute on the days I work in the office. I need to compile a list of lighter books that I can read on my work downtown days so I can devote my at home time to the many chunsters I have on my TBR list.

    I adore big fat sweeping sagas. Good to hear you recommend this one.

    • Geraldine on September 29, 2012 at 07:45

    I’ve read it and found it a slog and quite boring at times. I loved Pillars of the Earth and World Without End so I was disappointed that this one didn’t grab me.

  3. Excellent review, Wendy! My boyfriend is listening to the audiobook now and said he’s really enjoying it. Sounds like something I’d like too!

  4. This sounds awesome. I think I should pick this up. I love historical fiction chunksters

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