“When the Roman Empire declined, Britain went backward. As the Roman villas crumbled, the people built one-room wooden dwellings without chimneys. The technology of Roman pottery—important for storing food—was mostly lost. Literacy declined. This period is sometimes called the Dark Ages, and progress was painfully slow for five hundred years. Then, at last, things started to change”The Evening and the Morning
One of my favorite English historical fiction books is The Pillars of the Earth! There is just something about the background and historical detail that is like no other. It took a while but I finally read The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett, the prequel to the Kingsbridge series. The year is 997 CE and Aethelred II is King of England. A young man named Edgar is waiting to meet the love of his life so they can whisk away and get married, but the day takes a turn for the worst. There is a Viking raid that kills most of the village of Combe, including his love and his father. They are displaced and sent to a farm in Shiring under the Ealdorman Wilf. Then there is a Norman Lady, Ranga, who marries Wilf and moves to Shiring. Meanwhile, a monk named Aldred tries to turn a crumbling monastery into a center of learning and commerce.
Once again, Ken Follett transports readers to the end of the Dark Ages through phenomenal historical detail. The book is over 900 pages but the pace seems to move at a steady pace. Every event, every detail has a reason and I love how it ultimately connects to The Pillars of the Earth. There is political intrigue in Shiring and the corruption is out of control. The main characters, Aldred, Edgar, and Ragna start off young and a bit naive but have to face their reality. Even the people they trust can turn on them in an instant.
I haven’t completed the whole Kingsbridge series yet, I still have to read A Column of Fire which is the third book in the series and I plan to read it this summer! This is what we would call a historical epic and I am actually tempted to read the whole series again. Readers are prepared! There is heartbreak and brutal murder. Everyone who was not in charge suffered, especially women. So with the historical detail comes a lot of emotion. Overall, a wonderful prelude to a wonderful series.