The Evening and the Morning
- By Ken Follett
- 928 pp.
- Reviewed by J.H. Bográn
- September 10, 2020
This series prequel takes readers to the town of Dreng’s Ferry before it was called Kingsbridge.
The popular Kingsbridge series began in 1989 when author Ken Follett, known for high-octane thrillers and spy mysteries, published The Pillars of the Earth, a book about the building of a 12th-century church. It became a hit, and two more books eventually followed: World Without End in 2007 and A Column of Fire in 2017.
With this newest installment, fans of the series will be thrilled to visit their favorite medieval town again. But people who’ve yet to read any of the earlier books need not worry: The Evening and the Morning is a prequel.
The secret to writing a successful series is giving the reader more of the same, with variation. It’s a trick Follett has mastered with this series, which spans several centuries. The characters are different in each entry, yet they share the same link to the town of Kingsbridge — née Dreng’s Ferry.
The similarities also come from the likable figures that Follett, expert at developing relatable characters, creates with skill. We begin the journey in the year 997 with Edgar, the third son of a boatbuilder, whose plans to run away with the woman he loves are put to an end by a Viking raid. In its aftermath, Edgar’s father and girlfriend are dead, and the family has lost its business. Now Edgar, his two brothers, and their mother are forced to fight the odds against hunger by becoming farmers in a small town called Dreng’s Ferry.
Other characters include Lady Ragna, the daughter of a Norman count whose life changes when she marries an Englishman, and Aldred, a monk who hopes to build a large center of learning for the noble cause of expanding knowledge:
“One day, he dreamed, the scriptorium would be a dedicated room, warmed by a fire, where a dozen monks would labor all day at copying and illuminating.”
Along the way, we also meet Bishop Wynstam and his family. They represent power, both religious and economic. The political undercurrent throughout the novel runs deep and, on many occasions, shows how decisions made at the top have dire effects on the lives of the poor.
During this period in European history, England was at the mercy of invaders from two sides: from the west, the Welsh, who came every few years; and from the east, the Vikings, who instilled terror in a people who, in turn, reacted by clinging to their lords for security and justice.
The lives of Edgar, Ragna, Aldred, and Wynstam cross paths as they go up against obstacles, some in intricate conflict with one another. Follett adroitly captures life in the 10th century, from the beliefs of the time — e.g., that women would only become pregnant if they enjoyed sexual intercourse — to the transcendence of witnessing a birth:
“Edgar was possessed by a powerful emotion he could not name. He was awed by what he was seeing. His throat constricted as if he were about to weep, yet he was not sad; in fact, he felt joyous.”
As for the “differences” that make this book a meaningful addition to the series, readers will notice, first and foremost, the construction projects depicted. While previous installments include large building enterprises — a church, a bridge, and a tower — this one features several smaller (though no less troublesome) ones. Yet they are no longer the center of the story.
This change in formula impacts the passage of time in the book; The Evening and the Morning covers a mere 10 years, from 997 to 1007. But never fear: While the timeline is shorter, the page count remains substantial. Fans of the Kingsbridge series will find, along with big revelations, many Easter eggs buried in seemingly throwaway lines. And this time around, we finally get to see Leper Island in its heyday and learn how the town got its namesake bridge.
José H. Bográn is an international author of novels, short stories, and scripts for television and film. His genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. He is a freelance writer, a translator, and teaches academic writing, public speaking, and English as a second language at a local university. He’s a member of the Crime Writers Association, the Author’s Guild, the Short Fiction Writers Guild, and the International Thriller Writers, where he also serves as assistant editor to their zine, the Big Thrill. He lives in Honduras with his wife, three sons, and two dogs. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.