The Williams brother-and-sister pair live in a struggling working-class neighborhood and town, a place where the earl and a few others live in comfort while everyone else struggles to stay afloat. By creating a stern but clever union organizer and a feisty young lady whose humble work puts her in contact with the powerful, Follett has an ideal platform for connecting the otherwise mundane day-to-day struggles of a small town with high-stakes political machinations.
Hello, Winston, and greetings, Vladimir.
What drives some readers and reviewers crazy about historical fiction is what makes it so endearing to those of us who embrace it: The frequent brushes with real-life historical figures and plot coincidences (contrivances in the view of some) that tie the two together. To be sure, this is a delicate balancing act, and, in the hands of lesser writers, often devolves into parody, unraveled by painful expository dialog and cumbersome happenstance.
Follett manages these challenges with aplomb. He allows a glimpse or two of everyone from King George V to Woodrow Wilson without sacrificing narrative momentum and while maintaining the story’s all-important verisimilitude.
Happenstance and coincidental meetings abound as Follett conjures twists and turns of fate that feel true. Thus, Winston Churchill arrives at Earl Fitzherbert’s home in Wales in the spring of 1918 as both bane and blessing to the aristocracy.