Looking for a new book similar to Pillars of the Earth
February 3, 2010 5:21 PM   Subscribe

What are some books that are similar in storyline and writing style to Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet?

I recently read Pillars of the Earth as well as World Without End. I enjoyed them thoroughly. I would like to remain lost in that type of world for a bit longer though.

Can anyone recommend any books that are similar?

The location isn't that important.
I'm looking for the rustic setting. I want something before electricity or modern machinery.
I want a story told more from the peasant side of things as opposed to the royal side of things. I guess most of the people in the story were pretty ordinary at least at first glance.
Not Kings or Queens or Warriors or Magicians.
I like how well developed the characters were and the amount of research that went into it.. details.. i love details.
I enjoyed learning so much while I was reading for pleasure.

It could be a fantasy novel - I tried to get into Robert Jordan's stuff but felt like he took too much from Tolkien and changed it here or there to make it just different enough and it got on my nerves. But the setting was perfect for what I'm looking for.

I liked the love story. Not too sappy or overly predictable. or overwhelming the whole story.

I enjoyed that the story spanned decades.

I guess that is a good starting point. What books do you love that fit into these parameters? Why do you love it?

posted by fogonlittlecatfeet to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
You will love some of the books by Edward Rutherfurd, especially Sarum. I went straight from Pillars of the Earth to Sarum when I was younger, and it was amazing.

Thoroughly recommend it.
posted by Petrot at 5:37 PM on February 3, 2010

What a book! It was kind of like I lost a friend when I finished reading it. I'll be watching this thread closely.

C.J. Sansom looks like a promising arthor of this genre. I just finished Sovereign, the 3rd in a series set in the time of King Henry VII. Much like Pillars of the Earth, the novel is from the "working" people viewpoint.
posted by JujuB at 5:48 PM on February 3, 2010

This does not fit all of your criteria, but have you read Ross Lockridge's "Raintree County"? MUCH better than the Liz Taylor movie version.
posted by GaelFC at 5:51 PM on February 3, 2010

You might like Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. I think a new one just came out recently but there are plenty of older ones while you wait for it to make it to paperback.
posted by miratime at 5:52 PM on February 3, 2010

Response by poster: I have often thought of Diana Gabaldon... her books always come highly recommended, and I find myself picking them up in the bookstores regularly and then putting them back down.
I just have a real problem reading, or watching movies about Time Travel. It makes my mind want to implode, and I don't really enjoy the story because I'm so busy trying to figure out the possibility, what-ifs and could-be's of it all.
posted by fogonlittlecatfeet at 5:59 PM on February 3, 2010

I made it about half-way into Book 5 of the Outland series, and then just stopped. The storyline began to peter out and not be as engaging. I enjoyed the first few books. And while these books can certainly be classified as "time-travel" books, the author doesn't spend a lot of time moving the main character around in time. Nor are there any major time travel paradoxes or riddles, as in The Time Traveler's Wife or Connie Willis' "Doomsday Book".

Follett's "Pillars of the Earth" is way up on my list of favorite books. I've read it several times (and the sequel) and it's just an astounding book. I love it for all the reasons you state, as well as I felt I learned a lot about medieval architecture and building styles. Nice bonus!

Books that I found similar, in that they engaged me completely and I felt swallowed up:

The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy by Tad Williams

Fire & Ice series by George R.R. Martin

I did not like Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind's series so much. Too repetitive and "preachy". Raymond Feist has a nice Riftwar series (Pug and Tomas remain some of my favorite fantasy characters, ever). And Terry Brooks continues to get me to buy books in his never-ending Shannara series.

I liked Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose. Very captivating and engaging.

The Alienist was fascinating and a ripping great read.

I'm watching this thread closely. I too, would love to be lost again. Best of luck.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 6:14 PM on February 3, 2010

I also loved Pillars of the Earth; here's a series you may not have considered: S.M. Stirling's "Emberverse" series, starting with Dies the Fire. Not time travel, but an alternate history in which the world of the late 1990s suddenly loses all advanced technology, and people are forced back to Bronze Age technology, and must learn to survive.

Also, Outlander is a good series, and the time travel stuff is fairly minimal; people aren't constantly bouncing around in time; they pretty much stay in one time throughout the span of a book.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 6:16 PM on February 3, 2010

The Alienist is fantastic, and so is The Angel of Darkness, same guy. This may or may not be your cup of tea, but Michael Jecks' Templar Mysteries series fits the timeline requirements and the books are fun, easy reads, but the characters are a lot of fun. It's a well-researched world he's built there.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:25 PM on February 3, 2010

Perhaps An Instance of the Fingerpost. I enjoyed it very much, maybe even more than Pillars of the Earth. Seconding the Name of the Rose.
posted by procrastination at 6:32 PM on February 3, 2010

I second Edward Rutherford. In addition to Sarum, London and Russka are two of my favorites. I particularly liked the latter, as diving into the world of ancient through modern Russia was a new an interesting experience.
posted by gregchttm at 6:58 PM on February 3, 2010

He didn't limit his works to the pre-industrial period, but James Michener's books prominently feature indigenous people and common people whose actions have consequences stretching across generations. They are typically meticulously researched and have detailed descriptions of life in a variety of settings, as most of his works are multigenerational sagas encompassing a variety of settings.
posted by TedW at 7:34 PM on February 3, 2010

Pretty much anything by Sharon Kay Penman. Historical fiction that covers things like the welsh war for independence (covered in a trilogy), the War of the Roses & other British monarchy shenanigans. Liked her earlier stuff best & liked it way better than Pillars of the Earth.
posted by East Siberian patchbelly wrangler at 8:51 PM on February 3, 2010

Firethorn by Sarah Micklem was recommended to me recently as a good fantasy novel. Turns out, I suppose it's fantasy but it does not involve magic or anything of the like, just a generic medieval war campaign. It's told from the perspective of a camp follower, or "sheath". I thought it was definitely an interesting viewpoint that I hadn't come across before.
posted by slide at 9:13 PM on February 3, 2010

It's racy and pseudo-medieval, alternate-universe and lengthy, and well-written for the three books I read-- it's the Kushiel's series by Jacqueline Carey. You'd probably dig it.

If the mere thought of inexplicable time travel makes you nuts, I don't think Stirling's Emberverse is for you. The principal plot lever hasn't been explained in the three and a quarter books I've managed to get through, and the writing is roughly like a SCAdian Tom Clancy book-- lewdly fascinated by intricate details of pre-industrial technology and punctuated by steely-eyed, square-jawed proclamations from the male heroes. (Mind, I like these books. I'm just sayin'.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:45 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Books from Romain Sardou (French writer). They're translated into Spanish and German, but in English, I am not sure. Worth a look.
posted by rom1 at 2:22 AM on February 4, 2010

I haven't read Pillars of the Earth, but based on your other requirements, I would heartily recommend A Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks. It is set in the 17th century and tells the story of a plague village in the English countryside (it is very broadly based or perhaps inspired by is a better term, a true story of a village that shut itself off from the rest of the world for a year in hopes of stopping the plague from spreading further). The narrator is an 18 year old widow who keeps house for the vicar and his wife. And it has some elements of a love story.

Brooks is also the author of March (civil war story told from the perspective of the absent father of Little Women), which I believe won a Pulitzer for fiction. She also wrote People of the Book, which you might like as well, although most of the narrative takes place in contemporary times, it does include narratives from various characters throughout the book's history. Difficult to describe, so I just copied a tiny bit of the review:

One of the earliest Jewish religious volumes to be illuminated with images, the Sarajevo Haggadah survived centuries of purges and wars thanks to people of all faiths who risked their lives to safeguard it. Geraldine Brooks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, has turned the intriguing but sparely detailed history of this precious volume into an emotionally rich, thrilling fictionalization that retraces its turbulent journey.
posted by kaybdc at 8:05 AM on February 4, 2010

Mod note: A couple comments removed. Let's not have a Your Favorite Fantasy Epic Sucks fight in here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:12 AM on February 4, 2010

Yes, "Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End" were dandy!

A few ideas:

Ditto "In the Name of the Rose."

By Jason Goodwin: "The Janissary Tree"

By Sarah Dunant (in order of potential applicability): "In the Company of the Courtesan," "Sacred Hearts," "The Birth of Venus"

The Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters

Robert Harris wrote a couple of interesting books set in ancient Rome that were pretty good: "Pompeii" and "Imperium."

Margaret Campbell Barnes wrote several books set in 16th century England; "King's Fool" was very good. (I haven't read her others.)
posted by SuzB at 3:41 PM on February 4, 2010

Seconding Instance of a fingerpost. The best historical novel I have read and in my opinion better than both Pillars of the Earth and The Name of the Rose.
posted by ilike at 2:33 AM on February 5, 2010

You might enjoy Ravenwood by Nathan Lowell. It's a free audiobook. Fits all your criteria except for "over decades." I enjoyed it a lot.
posted by JDHarper at 3:57 PM on February 6, 2010

Have you tried any of Follett's other books? The Pillars of the Earth is one of my all time favorites and I have found that many of his other books are similarly character driven. One that comes to mind is A Dangerous Fortune. It is set in nineteenth century England and involves a number of years of the lives of a powerful family in the banking business.
posted by rglasmann at 6:12 PM on February 6, 2010

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