Set in the 12th century in the fictitious town of Knightsbridge this is a whopping good read. Not just for lovers of medieval times or historical fiction but for anyone who wants a good story. A cathedral is the centerpiece of the story for me and how the fascination of a builder - in this book not just one but a couple of them evolve into a major storyline which will keep you glued to this 1100 page book from the first page to the last.
The story is long, twisted and complicated. There is so much love, hatred, lust, envy, hunger for power amongst not just the knights and kings but also amongst the monks (that was a good one for me!) and the machinations of one seemingly very simple Prior who was in essence a good man but who wanted to do more for his people and in a very simple, unassuming way did exactly what he wanted to get what he wanted.
We have simple family units of Tom and Agnes and their two children, we then have Ellen coming into the picture (looked on as eccentric by some and as a witch by others), we have Aliena and Richard and in Aliena's case a catalyst for so much of the violence which erupts wherever she is, we have the power hungry Hamleigh family - vicious to the last, out to screw everyone out for whatever they can get, determined to be Earls of Shiring and do better than anyone else and to do this rule by just the power of terror, we have rival Bishops and Priors who support one king against another, just depending on which way a good wind is blowing and all with the ulterior motive of holding on to their own wealth and more importantly increasing it and at the same time hopefully bring down whoever they feel is a threat to them.
A very raw, emotional read. Makes you glad you are not a serf or a peasant in the 12th century where your current Lord can walk into your mill, your house or your fields and take off with whatever he likes, including your daughters or your wife. Makes you very glad you are an independent human being not dependent on someone's goodwill, support or guidance. A descriptive book which details life in the 12th century - the domestic trivia of agriculture, dairy, herding and housewifery was intrinsic to the story - on top of that we have detailed descriptions of building practices and how a mighty cathedral is actually built using very simple, primitive tools and then we have the most important human element of people being added to the mix and then you have a wonderfully unusual story.
It took me a while to get through this book but I enjoyed every page of it.