The year is 997 and the Vikings have come to Combe. After losing both his father and his lover in a devastating raid, Edgar sets out for Dreng’s Ferry, taking up an offer to rent a nearby farm and start over. Shipbuilders by trade, Edgar and his family attempt to begin a new life as farmers, trapped in a small village which offers little in the way of opportunity, culture, or community.
Meanwhile, across the channel, a beautiful Norman noblewoman prepares to leave Cherbourg for the English countryside. Excited to begin married life with Shiring ealdorman Wilwulf, Ragna is ready to take on the role of head of her own household. But she is about to find that daily life in England is a world away from that of France.
One of the people awaiting Ragna’s arrival is Aldred, a clever and ambitious monk with great plans for his monastery. After meeting the young woman in her native Cherbourg, he sees in her a kindred spirit and an important ally in the coming fight against the blasphemous clergy of Dreng’s Ferry.
These are just a few of the threads that make up Ken Follett‘s The Evening and the Morning, the latest in the Kingsbridge novel series. Covering just ten years – compared to the decades of, say, The Pillars of the Earth – The Evening and the Morning is no less engrossing or plot-laden for it. Details and characters build up piece by piece, as a multitude of sub-plots come together to explore the birth of a town that will last for centuries.
It’s more of the same from Follett. But, that’s never necessarily a bad thing. The usual character archetypes are here: the gifted young builder, the driven noblewoman, the corrupt bishop, the devoted monk. And they’re as well rounded and interesting as ever. Well paced and packed with events both historical and fictional, Follett’s writing is straightforward and well researched throughout, making for easy and immersive reading.
The ever present threats of the Vikings and the Welsh add a certain edge in a series that generally designates ambitious clergy or brutish noblemen as the major dangers. To have nameless yet vicious enemies constantly lurking in the wings is a real thrill, as reader and character alike await their imminent arrival.
Clocking in at around the 800 page mark, newcomers to the Kingsbridge series will likely be relieved to hear that, despite its prequel tag, The Evening and the Morning functions perfectly well as a standalone novel. No prior series knowledge is required. Its place early in the Kingsbridge timeline also means references to past characters and events (something which slowed sequel World Without End) are absent. That being said, it’s a pleasure as a returning reader to try and place locations or characters (beloved or otherwise) in this earlier period.
Follett continues to explore the minutiae of historical life in compelling and character-driven detail. Quite simply, he knows how to tell a story, and page after page, he does exactly that, all while somehow making the building of a local bridge seem every bit as exciting as a Viking raid. The Evening and the Morning marks another excellent trip to Kingsbridge – and hopefully not our last.