With Fall of Giants, the world finally has irrefutable proof that Ken Follett is the secret love child of James Michener and Barbara Tuchman. Follett’s book, the first of the planned Century Trilogy chronicling the 1900s, represents good history and great fiction – it is a dramatic yarn of epic scope, with characters of titanic passion.
True to form, Follett sets his extraordinary creation against the tapestry of world events, never patronising or pandering to his readers. In Giants, our heroes are fully realised people trying to survive Welsh mines, World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, divided loyalties and forbidden love. Five families – Welsh, British, German, Russian and American – intertwine during the tumultuous period between 1911 and 1924: a lurid, representatively tangled plotline includes a poor Welsh girl turned housekeeper ‘falling with child’ of the local British lord, and his sister, who secretly marries a German officer.
Follett introduces the exposition brilliantly, daring to humanise German soldiers and not just chalk them up as bellicose warmongers. Characters from both sides face off across the trenches and even brave machine-gun fire in scenes emphasising the futility of war, evocative of Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Man He Killed’. A guiltless pleasure, the book is impossible to put down, and leaves the reader feeling he’s had a passionate tryst with a history professor.
Empires fall. Heroes rise. Love conquers. After going through a war with these characters, you’re left hoping that Follett gets moving with the next giant instalment.