Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

The first in a trilogy, this fantastic historical novel set at around the beginning of the twentieth century is indeed a book of gigantic proportions and an epic page turner into the bargain! The story takes place around the lives of five families during some major twentieth century events such as Womens’ Suffrage, World War 1 and the Russian Revolution. It starts within a mining town called Aberowen with the central character of Billy Williams. He is 13 years old and starting work in the mine for the first time, just like his father and his father’s father before him.

Fall of Giants

What I really loved about the earlier chapters of the book were all the details about mining. What was involved, how unsafe the mines as places of work were, how unfair they were as places of work with little attention paid by the owners to health and safety and how brave those individuals were having to rely on this kind of work for to maintain a livelihood. The first sign of workers standing up for themselves and they would find themselves without a job and without a home. There had to be a solidarity amongst workers to be able to push forward with workers’ rights. My grandfather was a coal miner in South Shields and though I never met him I was transfixed to the details of the horrors of mining explained in such vivid prose. I felt I was actually there at times struggling for clean air amongst all the coal dust.

Fall of Giants moved around from the cloying atmosphere of the mine shafts to the local landowner’s (and collier owner) country house through Billy William’s sister who works below stairs. Here we see how the other half live and comparisons are made between those hardworking poor families of the colliery town and those privileged few in the big house. Three years later on, the Fitzherberts of the big house host an interesting party where the guests include the King of England George V, advisor to the President of the USA Woodrow Wilson and german nobility. All this takes place on the cusp of World War 1, the Great War.

In the main this is a story that shows the changes that life can throw at you and how ordinary working people are kept within their stations by the aristocracy and while life can be so terrible at times hope can be found and change is possible – in the book, change can make things better or worse. But overall if people didn’t make a stand, things would always stay the same and who wants to live in this kind of life – an imprisonment of sorts?

This is an epic novel and the first of the trilogy. I have waited for years for the second instalment Winter of the World to appear on the shelves and at last it has arrived!