Fall of Giants is the first book in Ken Follett’s ‘Century’ trilogy. It tells the story of five families in the years preceding, during and after the First World War. The characters range from Welsh miners to European aristocracy, Russian foundry workers to American high society. I don’t read war stories, but this is not a war story per se. It starts in a Welsh mine and a Russian steel works where parts are made for the railways. We see the characters grow and develop.
I was drawn into the book right from the start. The events and people were vividly drawn, although in retrospect I find myself wondering if Earl Fitzherbert and his wife, a Russian princess, had to be quite so unlikeable. They didn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities. The workers, on the other hand, were mostly likeable. For example, Billy Williams grows from a boy struggling with his first day at work in the mine, to a young man able to take charge in a crisis, and then to a sergeant in the British Army. The disaster in the mine was so well written that I shared Billy’s anger and frustration at the way the mine’s management had flouted the laws on safety equipment. I also shared the resentment of the townspeople when the widows of the men who had died in the disaster were turned out of their homes by the mining company who owned the houses.
One worker who was not likeable was Lev Peshkov. In Russia he was a shifty young man. He flees to America, abandoning his pregnant girlfriend. Once there, he gets involved with the local Russian ‘boss’, and eventually becomes a gangster. His only reason for doing anything is because it pleases him to do it. He doesn’t care about the feelings of others.
These are just a few of the diverse characters in this fascinating book. Ken Follett seamlessly weaves real-life events and people into the story. It’s not a historical period I know much about, but nothing in the speech or behaviour of the people felt wrong or out-of-place for the time. Fall of Giants is a real door-stop of a book, but it never drags.