Written by Ellie Hartley
Ken Follett’s novels ’The Century Trilogy’ span the whole of the 20th century and are told from the perspective of five families from Wales, England, Germany, The United States and Russia. These families come from very different backgrounds but over the course of the trilogy have intertwining fates. The novels are all historically accurate and allow the reader to experience key events such as the origins of the First World War and the Russian revolution, as well as exploring less well-known historical events such as, the German intelligence service’s attempt to divide Russian resistance by funding Lenin’s campaign. This is all told from a variety of characters perspectives which allows the reader to get an intimate understanding of these events. Despite the main characters in this novel being fictional, the novels do include real historical figures such as Winston Churchill, Kaiser Wilhelm and Lloyd George who interact with the main characters. Follett says, ‘my rule is: either the scene did happen, or it might have; either these words were used, or they might have been’.
When real people have conversations with fictional characters, they are usually saying things they really did say at some point, which enables us, the reader, to connect with historical events.
The first book in the Century Trilogy is the ‘Fall of Giants’. The novel starts in a Welsh mining village in 1911 at the Coronation of King George V with Billy, a 13 year old going to his first day of work down a mine and his sister Ethel, a bright and attractive young girl, whose ‘talent’ is not recognized due to her sex and class. The novel quickly explores the disparities between the rich and poor, as the lives of Billy and Ethel are contrasted with the Earl Fizherbert who owns both the mine that they work in and most of Wales. The other characters are then introduced shortly with a key theme revolving around common people trying, and in most cases succeeding, to overthrow the aristocracy that tries to keep them from rising above their class and hence the title of this book.
These novels are thoroughly enjoyable, and I would recommend them to any history fan or someone like myself who has an interest in history and wants to learn more.
I believe that everyone who reads them will learn something new and deepen their knowledge of the 20th century. The facts are told in a way that makes history easy to digest. Despite being history novels, these books are also incredibly moving as Follett with tragic accuracy, reviews the despair and suffering of soldiers in the trenches as they lead futile charges against artillery, whilst their often incompetent leaders continue to promote these fights as great victories. In addition to this, there are some great romances, some of which are forbidden and keep you turning the pages. Furthermore, throughout the series Follett puts an emphasis on strong women who speak their mind and strive for positive change in the world. He creates female characters that every woman would want to be like, and most men would want to date. Over the course of the book, many of the female characters get pregnant, with or without being married, which sets up their children to become the main characters in the second book of the trilogy, Edge of Eternity.
Written by Ellie Hartley
Ellie is a recent Economics graduate from the University of Kent. Not your 'typical' historian, Ellie's passion for history stemmed from her love of reading historical fiction and travelling.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the InFocus History website or its editors.