I just finished reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (yes I started it like two months ago). It was excellently written, and created a vivid 12th century world populated by realistic and engaging characters.
It was actually the quality of the work that kept me reading for over half of the book. The author presents characters that are righteous and good but that have little defense against the aggressive tyranny of the evil men who also inhabit this world. At times, Follett’s realism and attention to detail in his descriptions of the suffering of the characters are too much to take. It is a civilized barbarism that filled me with grief and despair. Small victories were rendered meaningless by the persistent ruthlessness of the antagonists.
I kept wondering, how did we ever live like this? There seemed to be no decency. And those few decent characters were abused and punished. But they did not break. And that is the ultimate message. The world is changed, in the end, not by the despicable acts of greed, but by the righteous persistence of the hopeful and kind.
It left me wanting more. But at the same time, I have to wonder, is that my own bit of evil, wanting to see these horrible people more than humbled?