The Pillars of the Earth REVIEW & Character Development

Set in 12th-century England, the narrative concerns the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The ambitions of three men merge, conflict and collide through 40 years of social and political upheaval as internal church politics affect the progress of the cathedral and the fortunes of the protagonists.

-Publisher’s Weekly

It was past 2 a.m. when I finally read the last page of Ken Follett’s massive novel, The Pillars of the Earth. The moment I shut the book and put it aside, my definition of EPIC had forever been redefined. Don’t let the size of the book daunt you as it did me at first. Reading PotE has been a beyond great experience. Despite some obvious slips into modernism, the story transported me back some hundreds of years ago to a time where injustice governed, where greedy nobles reigned, and where peasants lived in constant fear and oppression. I went through quite a roller-coaster of emotions while reading this great medieval epic: I cried, I laughed, I fumed. What I loved best about this book was how the lives of very believable characters were woven so beautifully, so stunningly, into a complicated work of art.

Through this book, I learned several lessons. I learned of humility and compassion through Prior Philip. I learned of determination through Arianna: she built her life once more when it was in shambles; she searched for her lover throughout Christendom. And Jack, oh Jack—I watched him grow from a wild boy to a brave young man who ended up stealing my heart. I love this book to bits.

As a writer, I learned what it meant by “real, breathing characters”. Follett’s PotE is one of the few books (well, there were many, but only few remain in my memory) in which the characters came to life for me. They were so real that by the end of the book, I felt as if I knew them in reality, as if they were my acquaintances.

So, as a writer, I wondered to myself: what makes a character “real”? Answer: Character development. Throughout the 1000+ pages, gradually, bit by bit, Follett reveals to us the vices and virtues in each major character. Their personality isn’t shown to us in an information dump, but through their reaction to/and how they deal with a certain situation. No one character is perfect. And no one character is the same by the end of the story. Growth and change is what defines us human beings. And Follett adds depth to their characterization by incorporating this truth. The protagonists and antagonists, by the end of the story, have been altered and moulded according to the life situations they are thrust into.

What brings characters alive for you guys? What is the first book with GREAT character development that pops into your mind?


I’m following the eight-hour long T.V. adaptation of Pillars of the Earth. This Friday the fifth episode will be airing. Maybe it’s because I read the book first, but I find that the story is moving so quickly, allowing for little of the development I adored in the novel. But, then again, it’s impossible to fit the whole story into a miniseries. With this fact taken into consideration, I think it’s worth-while to watch. Especially because Eddie Redmayne is playing Jack (He was Angel in Tess of D’Ubervilles).

P.S. I’ve received some truly lovely graphics for Be Still My Heart. If you’d like to send me a design of your own, feel free to do so! You can send it to me at I will be using all the graphics submitted to me 🙂

By Katherine (Blog: November’s Autumn)


By Kelly H.


By Sharon K.

38 thoughts on “The Pillars of the Earth REVIEW & Character Development

    • Eye of the Needle? No I haven’t! But I’ll check it out. I think I’ll read anything by Follett if it’s anything close to being as good or better than Pillars of the Earth.


  1. First of all, lovely graphics, all of them. Makes me want to read BSMH NOW :).

    I have quite a few of Ken Follett’s books, too, and I will definitely add this one to my “To Read” list. Thanks for the review, June!

    As for the book(s) that stole my heart through character development (I know you asked for one book, but they keep tumbling into my memory, but I’ll stop at two):
    ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.


    • I LOVED Anne of Green Gables! it was such a wonderful, heart-warming book. But the series did tend to drag once Anne and Gilbert married. I remember reading a scene where she thought Gilbert was falling for another woman. But the reason behind what looked to be flirtation was something ridiculous. Yah, didn’t like it too much.

      As for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ I read a few years ago and, honestly, I couldn’t understand why people loved loved this book. The books on my shelf collecting dust now, maybe it’s time to reread it…?


      • I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ for the first time only a few years ago, as an adult. I loved the complexity of the relationships and undercurrents between the different characters — I couln’t put the book down. Yes, I’d say give it a second chance :).


  2. Well, you convinced me–I started reading Pillars a couple days ago. Not too far in yet (am trying to be dilligent about the latest rewrite, so no fun allowed lol) but am very much enjoying it!

    I think character is the most important part of a story–twofold, the discovery (I hate being handed a character, I like to ferret him or her out for myself) and development (which it sounds like Mr. Follett did brilliantly). Am only beginning to discover his characters–can’t wait to see them develop!


    • I can’t wait to hear what you’ve got to say about Pillars! But yes, your rewrite should come first! It goes the same for me. I’ve put off reading because I want to finish my first draft before school starts.

      Keep your eyes on Jack Jackson!


  3. Pillars is amazing. Beyond amazing, really. I never in my life thought I could read a book that’s nearly 1000 pages and be left wanting more. Begging for more. You wouldn’t believe my reaction when World Without End was released. Oh happy day!

    Although WWE didn’t have the same magic as Pillars, I still loved it. I love how the characters are descendents of the original characters.

    You’re right about the mini-series. It does seem to moving at breakneck speed. I guess they have to in order to fit 40 years worth of plot into 8 episodes. Nonetheless, I am loving it.

    And Jack *dreamy sigh* they couldn’t have cast him better. I love him.

    There are 2 books for me (I know you asked for one) that really stand head and shoulders above the rest. The first is, naturally, Pillars of the Earth. All the characters, Jack especially, have stayed with me since I finished the book nearly 2 years ago. The second is Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Greatest Knight. William Marshal was a champion of champion’s. Even though he’s a historical figure, Elizabeth made him and that time so vivid, so very, very real. And she made William sound like sex on a stick. I couldn’t help falling in love.

    Love the BSMH images. Great post, Junebug, and sorry I got long-winded.

    C xx


    • I actually couldn’t get through WWE… I have a quarter left to read. But I’m not at all in a hurry to finish it. I didn’t like *any* of the characters. And it felt like a story on a much smaller scale. Even though it really isn’t. There was something more grand about Pillars, something more magical, as you put it.

      But yes, mainly because of the characters, I stopped reading. I don’t find myself sympathizing for any of ’em…especially Gwenda and Wulfric (sp?). The love stories of both couples seems so…empty compared to Allianna and Jack. The comparison, I suppose, is what makes it so hard for me to like WWE.

      It is an entertaining read, nevertheless.

      I read one of Chadwick’s book. It had something to do with people going after this woman accused of witchcrafts. Not sure. Didn’t like it too much. I think I’ll try out The Great Knight though. *That* sounds interesting!


  4. Ooo, it’s going on my reading list as soon as I finish my novel edit and fun is allowed again (I hear you, Rowenna). I am so out of the loop, I haven’t read any Ken Follet.
    My first earth-moving character book was Gone With The Wind which I first read when I was fourteen and read every year for several years. The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough was/is the richest in unique characters that never failed to surprise, but then, yeah, it was exactly what they would do. How many writers can do that?


    • What story are you editing? Am tres curious.

      Gone with the Wind. It is one of my greatest regrets that I watched the movie first. Because I watched the movie, I no longer want to read the book, because I know the storyline, and so it steals the fun away from reading. And here I am hearing everyone say how much better the book is. But… I just can’t read stories I know the ending of.

      OMG! THORNSBIRDS! You’re actually the first person I’ve come across that has read and loved this book. Maybe there are others, but they didn’t tell me so. Anyway, love love loveeeee the book. It was super romantic. It was an Australian Epic!!! I love how the author adds the right twists and turns to the story to make my heart beat so fast. I also adored the family–the parents and children had their flaws, but they grow on you.


  5. Wow you’re fast! I just sent you my disclaimer email.

    And I feel like SUCH an idiot for forgetting a comma! ;_; Be Still My Heart? Just shoot me, please >< Feel free to add on the comma if you want… I'm such a dunce. Gahhhhhh.


    • Nooo problemo! Hey, I forgot to add a comma to ALL my titles…. *facepalm* I’m sure it makes sense with or without the comma…ha…ha…ha?

      I replied just now, but just to make you feel better incase you read this first: All the other designs are basically pictures/paintings created by other artists. So no need to feel bad ❤


  6. You really make me want to read The Pillars of the Earth now! Despite its thickness, I think I might be able to pull through. Afterall, I did survive the monster of a book– Gone With the Wind. Have you read it before? Thoughts?

    And I’m cheering for you in your quest for an agent! YOU CAN DO IT!!!!!


    • Oh gosh, if you got through Gone with the Wind, you can get through anything LOL. I’ve only seen the movie, which I loved. As I told Sharmon, because I watched the movie first, I don’t want to read the book. I’m missing out, aren’t I?

      Thank you for your enthusiastic support!!!!!!


  7. Have you read World Without End yet? It’s the “sequel” to Pillars. I read it, not knowing about Pillars, and abosuletly loved it. I just started Pillars and I’m looking forward to every page.


    • *Sigh* I read Pillars first, so while reading WWE, I found it lacking in that magical, grand-scaled feeling I got from reading the first book. So I was disappointed with WWE.

      I’m really interested in what you’ll think about Pillars! Drop by and leave your final consensus (of which book is better) when you finish with Pillars. Very curious…. Some of my friends say that WWE is better because it’s fast paced. But it was too fast paced to me with so much happening at once that I couldn’t get into the characters really.


    • I know, the third one’s lovely! I remember posting this photo up, by Anne Lebowitz (sp?), a year ago, after I found it on another person’s blog. I think it’s one of my fav pictures. I’m so glad she used it.

      I’m over my writer’s block! Yahhhhh


  8. Great review June! To tell you the truth, the number of pages this book has (+1000) is kind of intimidating. But I find Arianna very intriguing, a deep, complex character who is determined and strong.
    “They were so real that by the end of the book, I felt as if I knew them in reality, as if they were my acquaintances.”
    This is the description of good characterization! Character development is vital for the characters to come alive and start breathing. I think that’s why we love Austen and Bronte Sisters so much, they allowed their characters to develop, slowly, trough out the book…
    Oh I LOVE those graphics June! If I was talented enough I would definitely make one for Be Still My Heart! 🙂


    • Austen and the Brontes DO develop their character very well. But I did notice that with Austen, though she does develop the characters, she also gives us readers info dumps on what kind of personality her heroine has. Did you notice? I remember trying to emulate that style, but, in our modern era, I guess it’s somewhat frowned upon? If done to an excess, I assume.


  9. I’m caught off guard as to how to answer about my novel–duh, how dumb is that??! I’ve been trying to think of a good one-sentence pitch, but until then, here’s a sort of blurb I came up w/ a while back. “Deserted by her fiance for God’s work, author Graham Bridgemoore is determined to start a new life alone and support herself by opening a bed and breakfast in her family’s Victorian estate while finishing her first novel. Despite the lush beauty of Gray’s Southern hometown, there is a dark past that surrounds her and her once-prominent family. She stumbles onto a long hidden secret and as she forges bridges to the past to bring the sins of the fathers to light, will she be caught by the same temptations that destroyed her family? The dark depression she has conquered still lurks in the shadows, ready to claim her if her diligence slips. Gray must find justice for a heinous wrong from the past and make peace with a God she feels has betrayed her…all while keeping a firm grip on her heart and her sanity.”
    Please excuse the rough draft. I’m also having title woes. Titles usually come easily to me, but not for this one. Working title is “Bridges”.

    Re: GWTW. Like I tell everyone, read the first page, if you don’t read the 2nd I’ll be shocked–read at least the chapter. If you can put it down after that…Puh-lease, I loved the movie, but it’s like a banana split when you haven’t had the fillet mignon–or should I say fried chicken and turnip greens? :-).
    Re: The Thornbirds. Yay, I found a fellow Aussie-lover! C.M. was the first and few who showed me that you can write almost every character against type and even cheat with the “happy ending” and still make the reader drool.
    I always check out the fave book section of every blog and haven’t seen it once. What’s up w/ that?
    Thanks for asking and sorry I took up so much space!


    • Holy smokes! Your story sounds AWESOME! Reading the summary, it sounds like an inspirational fiction. Ain’t it? If it is, you’re likely the first inspirational writer I’ve met. Most of my acquaintances write for the secular market.

      Anyway, yes, your book. I got the chills reading it. It sounds very dark, which I love. The human struggles with man and God… I wish you had a blog so I could learn more about your work! And perhaps even read an excerpt! darn. Well, if you ever do decide to make a blog, you know who you must contact first!

      RE: GWTW — Well….maybe in a few years, when the plot becomes vague in my mind, I’ll read the book! I love Rhet Butler…..*drools*

      RE: Thornbirds — I’m as bewildered as you for the lack of awareness of this book’s existance. Maybe it’s because it’s so old? But then I’ve been seeing this book everywhere of late in bookstores…. Maybe it’s the cover. The cover isn’t that attractive, I have to give it to you. Maybe that’s why peopel aren’t picking it up to read. But still…it’s a mystery… It’s such a masterpiece. Ever since I read that book, I was in love with the name “Meg”


  10. Love the graphics! And thanks for the great review. I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while but, the size did deter me. I may get it on the Kindle and take it with me to London …


    • You lucky duck! Going to London! What a great way to research for your book, Damn Brits, eh? I can’t wait till you read Pillars. Share your thoughts with us once you do!


  11. Okay, I just teared up. Your enthusiasm was much, much more than I anticipated. THANK YOU. Yes, I am aiming for the CBA and you are the first inspirational writer I’ve come across, too. Providential?
    I am sooo eager to get my blog up–esp. now!! But I’m having laptop woes and need to either get repairs or purchase a new one (groan). Also, I’m still trying to decide what I want to include in my site (thanks for all the inspirational ideas here and at some of your other blog buddies). You will be one of the first on my list!
    Re: Bridges. I’m so glad the darkness came across even in this blurb. Because I do not want to write “vanilla” Christian fic. I want to write about real people w/ real faults that struggle w/ temptation and doubt. I’m hoping to find a niche in the market that will be willing to publish it. I tried to write the book I want to read, as I had a time finding fiction that captured me at my Christian book store. Thanks for letting me share!
    Re: The Thornbirds. It’s a shame because there are vast writing riches to be mined in it–more writers should read it. Maybe we can put it back on the map :-). I’d love to do a character study on Meggie on my blog. I think it was my 2nd or 3rd reading before I realized she was actually a very passive, meek MC. So why do we love and pull for her so hard? Fascinating.


    • I’m freaking out here! It’s beyond awesome to meet a writer who says “I am aiming for the CBA…” So exciting. It truly is providential. I only recently (like a few months ago) discovered this market, so am always on the lookout for good Christian fiction. I’ve come across some great authors, like Francine Rivers, and some not-so-great authors whose book basically reads like a secular romance without the sex and just lots of bible verses sprinkled here and there. I guess this latter catagory of book is what you’d call “Vanilla” Christian fic?

      “I want to write about real people w/ real faults that struggle w/ temptation and doubt….” You’ve just won my respect. YOURS would be the kind of book I LOVE to read.
      Christians struggle with the same temptations, doubts, and sins as non-Christians…. so I don’t think there should be any restrictions, as long as what we write doesn’t become offensive and is God-centered. Books like these, I’ve read being termed as “Edgy Inspirationals.”

      Anyway, when you do post that blog up, I hope you’ll share you knowledge of the Inspirational market. I haven’t come across too many blog posts on this subject–even when this market is booming.

      AND I can’t wait to read your character study on Meggie. That’ll be a fascinating read. I never realized she was a passive, meek MC, but now that you mention it…I guess she is. i suppose it’s because the author gave a nice balance too that character. She wasn’t meek and passive to the point where I wanted to growl in frustration.


  12. One more comment and I promise I’ll shut up! I have sooo much to learn about the CBA market yet. I’ve been concentrating on writing the best ms. I could. Francine Rivers is a highly respectable writer. Karen Kingsbury and a few others; but even my very conservative son said, “Please, mom, don’t write another Amish book”!
    Since I couldn’t find the kind of book I wanted to read/write, I just plunged in. I’m not saying it’s not out there, but I haven’t found it yet. I will definitely keep you updated. I assume you follow agent Rachelle Gardner?
    Do you have a title or author of an “edgy inspirational”?
    I was impressed w/ your agent track record. From what I’ve heard, that’s pretty positive as far as interest and feedback.
    Re: Meggie. Yeah, good excuse to dig out my old paperback and do “research” on her (giddy grin).


    • I’m not too crazy about Amish books myself. Amish romance in the Christian market is like Vampires in the secular market, haha. It’s overdone it seems.

      I haven’t read many. So far, the edgiest Inspirationals I’ve read is (all historicals):

      Francine Rivers ‘Redeeming Love’ is about a prostitute. It was very dark and seemed to cross many restrictive boundaries. E.x. She wrote a bedroom scene. Though it was very poetical and non-explicit…she still kept the bedroom door open. For other reasons, such as the heroine’s icy character, I didn’t like the book as much as her other books, but it was moving nevertheless.

      Then there is Deanne Geist’s ‘A Measure Of a Lady’. This was the only book of hers that I really enjoyed. Some of the themes she focused on is a bit overdone. But it was edgy, in that it was about a woman struggling with sexual temptation.

      Also, there’s Liz Curtis Higgins books ‘Here Burns My Candle’. It deals with paganism and adultary in a very emotional way.

      Aaaand that’s about it.

      P.S. Rachelle Gardner! I just recently queried to her a few days ago. No idea if she’ll be interested or not, but I’m glad I found her. She has an awesomeeee blog!


  13. Great review. I’ve got Pillars on my to-read list now. Wow, don’t the graphics for Be Still my Heart look amazing. I loved all of them. What talented people there are out there. Well done guys.


  14. Thanks, June! I wrote the titles and will look at my library today. I read Redeeming Love–felt the same as you about the MC. Thanks for letting me know these books were out there. I haven’t studied the market near enough.
    All the best w/ Rachelle! I’ve learned a lot about the process and business just from the short time I’ve been following her.


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