Winter of the World (Century of Giants Trilogy 2) by Ken Follett

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Winter of the World (Century of Giants Trilogy 2) by Ken Follett

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The second in a sweeping saga taking us from 1933 and pre-Second World War to 1949 and the seeds of the Cold War with enough for the die-hard fans to enjoy, but not Ken at his best.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 832 Date: September 2012
Publisher: Macmillan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0230710108

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The world of 1933 seems to be about to disprove the idea that WWI was the war to end all wars. German politician Walter von Ulrich and his wife (and former English aristocrat) Maud watch in horror as Adolf Hitler's National Socialists increase their hold; a rise in popularity that invigorates their son Erik. After visiting the von Ulrichs, young Lloyd Williams takes mental images of the brutality gripping Germany home to England, images that fire him up to fight against the fascist threat elsewhere in Europe. Meanwhile young socialite Daisy Peshkov has marriage on her mind but isn’t considered a respectable prospect in her native USA. (Blame her thuggish father, movie magnate Lev.) This doesn't stop her though; if she can't have a rich American husband, there's still a bit of money left in Britain.

Ken Follett leaves an impressive body of work in his wake since his first book hit the shelves nearly 40 years ago. For many people (including me) a new 'Follett' publishing date becomes diarised with haste and anticipation and it was with this mind that I embarked on his Century of Giants Trilogy and found a little less than I was hoping for.

As the first volume Fall of Giants begins with the build-up to the first World War, Winter' leads in with the preparations for the second (and can be read as a stand-alone too by the way). The story baton is gradually passed to the children in true family saga style. How effective is this succession? The jury isn't out but the answer you get will depend on which juror you're asking. Speaking personally, this isn't the Follett standard to which I'd become accustomed. The language is clunky in places as we're 'told' rather than 'shown' and dialogue is littered with adverbs to demonstrate feelings we should be able to discern in other ways.

There are frequent recaps in the story sometimes feeling a bit 'previously on…' in the way of TV shows ignoring that the action that's being recapped only happened a relatively short while ago. On the other hand, there is a huge cast of characters and you aren't going to forget any in a hurry so there's a plus side.

Unfortunately it pays not to know much about the period as historical knowledge creates its own spoilers. For instance, a disabled child is born in pre-war Germany, the Dewar family happen to be visiting a certain Hawaiian naval installation on a certain day etc. Therefore even before their resolution (years before in the child's case) you have a rough idea of their chances. Also, even excepting the Nazis and brown-shirts, all the goodies seem to be left wing politically whereas the baddies are all right. Even for a lefty like me, anti-Tory comments without a defence or justification of the other side does suggest a one-sided view of history. Yes, this is a fiction but it's built around factual events and this bias is unsettling.

Having said this, there was something that kept me going to the end. I learnt to fast-forward over the adverbs and the clunkiness. I explained away the lack of character depth (unusual for Mr F) by telling myself it was an action-driven book. Some people have complained that certain historical moments (e.g. the Battle of Britain) are glossed over but he's trying to cram 16 years in 800 pages and the set piece around Pearl Harbor would suggest he's aiming at an American market.

There were indeed flashes of the old Ken we love: I was rooted to my seat as the Dewars fought for survival and during a particular Carla von Ulrich bike ride I was white knuckling all the way. Were there enough glimpses to make this book readable? For me there were.

The best way to look the novel is as a human body. There are spots, blemishes and marks on the skin but the bone structure beneath is sound and the heart is in the right place. If you can ignore the imperfections, this sweeping saga encapsulating a world in conflict will carry you with it. If, however, you're mesmerised by the stylistic acne, that's all you'll see. In short, if you're a Follett fan it's worth a go, but you may want to borrow it first to check. If you're new to the author, this may not be the best place to start.

If this has whetted your appetite to read about specific aspects try The Conductor by Sarah Quigley about the hardships in Russia during the war and My Enemy's Cradle by Sarah Young about another aspect of Nazi ideology. Meanwhile, if you'd like to go back to the Winter of the World families' roots then we suggest the first in the trilogy.

Buy Winter of the World (Century of Giants Trilogy 2) by Ken Follett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Winter of the World (Century of Giants Trilogy 2) by Ken Follett at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Winter of the World (Century of Giants Trilogy 2) by Ken Follett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Winter of the World (Century of Giants Trilogy 2) by Ken Follett at Amazon.com.


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