I do not know how long it’s been since I read an 800+ page book, but I am out of practice. This one took me forever, and I only persisted because I love Ken Follett so much.
I read The Pillars of the Earth in 2010, when I bought a copy for my iPad on a camping trip. I bought that copy via iTunes, and I loved it so much that I bought another copy for my Kindle. Then a few years later, I read The Century Trilogy on a cruise, all 3000 pages of it. And it was brilliant. The parallels that Follett draws between Germany in the 1940s and the US in the 2010s are chilling.
Point being, I thought, after more than 4000 pages together (‘cause i also read Eye of the Needle in the Eighties), that Ken and I were besties.
And then he dropped this one on me.
The new must-read epic from master storyteller Ken Follett: more than a thriller, it’s an action-packed, globe-spanning drama set in the present day.
“A compelling story, and only too realistic.” —Lawrence H. Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary
“Every catastrophe begins with a little problem that doesn’t get fixed.” So says Pauline Green, president of the United States, in Follett’s nerve-racking drama of international tension.
A shrinking oasis in the Sahara Desert; a stolen US Army drone; an uninhabited Japanese island; and one country’s secret stash of deadly chemical poisons: all these play roles in a relentlessly escalating crisis.
Struggling to prevent the outbreak of world war are a young woman intelligence officer; a spy working undercover with jihadists; a brilliant Chinese spymaster; and Pauline herself, beleaguered by a populist rival for the next president election.
Never is an extraordinary novel, full of heroines and villains, false prophets and elite warriors, jaded politicians and opportunistic revolutionaries. It brims with cautionary wisdom for our times, and delivers a visceral, heart-pounding read that transports readers to the brink of the unimaginable.
So, it’s a good book. It’s not his best single work, because Pillars. And it’s not as mesmerizing as the Century Trilogy. But it’s solid. The plot is complicated, and like all thrillers, for the first 100 pages, you don’t know who ANYONE is. But you plod along, hoping that it will all come together. And in this case, it does. The story is tight, and plausible. And the end, while frustrating, makes sense.
And it’s a great bit of insight into how our government actually functions, what it means to be a diplomat in today’s geo-political climate. I learned a ton.
It did suffer from the thing that almost all books told from multiple perspectives suffer from and that is that some stories are just more appealing than others. I very much enjoyed the chapters set in Washington, and most of the chapters set in Africa. The chapters set in China dragged a bit. There are also three love stories that are secondary to the plot, but which play out in the background of all the other stories. And none of the three was all that convincing. We were told that these people had feelings for one another, that they loved one another, that they would risk everything, sacrifice anything to be together…and none of it rang true to me. Romance is a ‘show me, don’t tell me’ thing.
Which brings me to what I thought was the biggest problem, and that was the dialogue, which was pretty stiff in the best example, and downright wooden in the worst. I do not remember the dialogue standing out to me in either of the five Follett books that preceded this one, so my assumption is that it was unremarkable…but unremarkable is way better than bad:
“Tamara said: ‘What happened?’”
”’You didn’t trust him,’ said Tamara.
”’People do it all the time,’ Kiah said.”
”’Good Luck,’ said Tamara. ‘Bonnie Chance,’ said Tab.”
Everyone said a thing. Follett used the word more than 2700 times. I mean, I know that we don’t want to overuse other ‘said’ words, words like ‘remarked’ or ‘plotted’ or ‘indicated.‘ That isn’t what I am suggesting. But there are graceful ways to write dialogue, and these ain’t they.
There is one more thing that affected my enjoyment of the story and that’s the fact that it felt so freaking real. It felt like we could actually be 90 days out from a world-ending nuclear event. The scenario that Follett lays out for us so carefully feels like it could happen exactly that way.
Do you remember waking up on the day after 9/11 feeling like the world was remarkably less safe? And do you remember how it felt when someone said that we were always that unsafe…we just didn’t know it?
THAT is how this book made me feel. I feel like this could be our actual world, right now, today. Like the President could be in an underground bunker, at this very moment, watching the nukes that we launched wending their way to North Korea. Or China. Or Russia.
And that is terrifying. So, I guess kudos to you, Ken. I’ll be sure to pass along my therapy bill forthwith.