Fall of Giants is the first book in his Century Trilogy series. The background of the book is the First World War and I wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future, an irate history teacher prescribes this book to her students for some light reading (though the book is a pillow).
Tracing the lives of five different families, residing in different countries, Ken Follet weaves a family saga, where history is witnessed through the eyes of his characters.
Billy Williams, a young coal miner goes down to the mines for the first time in life, while Earl Fitzwilliam gets ready to entertain King George V and his retinue at his country residence. This is where we meet the other main characters of the novel. Maud, Fitz’s radical sister who believes in women’s rights, Walter von Ulrich, Fitz’s German friend, his gay cousin Count Robert and Gus Dewar, an American who works for Woodrow Wilson.
Though Fitz is worried about the lack of a heir to his earldom, his roving eyes does not miss the vivacious Ethel Williams, the erstwhile housekeeper of the mansion. Capable, independent yet passionate Ethel can’t resist the charms of Fitz, even though he is married. On the other hand, Maud has fallen in love with Walter, who is equally passionate about her.
Gus Dewar, travels to Russia and we are introduced to brother Grigori and Lev Peshkov. Poor and young, they are forced to witness the hanging of their father and the death of their mother in riots. Even as Ken Follet traces their life through the pre-revolution days of Russia, you know that these two characters are going to play a major role in the book.
Lev moves to America to escape a murder charge while his brother Grigori takes care of his pregnant girlfriend whom he eventually marries. It is through Grigori’s eyes that we see the turn of events that eventually leads to Russian Revolution.
I loved the way Ken Follet manages to stage major historical turning points with one of his characters witnessing it. For example, my history teacher could never really explain clearly as to how the World War I started. I loved the way, he plays with his characters, positioning them to argue for both the sides, while you are left to make up your own mind.
The couple to watch out for in this book would be Maud and Walter, an English aristocrat and a German national, desperately in love with each other. Walter tries to avoid the war that will eventually separate him from his love. His fruitless efforts and his desperation at the turn of events will surely capture your imagination.
Ethel is another character to watch out for. She comes a long way from being a housekeeper to a Labour Party member and a journalist. I loved her grit, her strength of character and that sudden vulnerability when she sees Fitz.
A saga that will keep you hooked on until the end. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the second book, which is equally good.