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'World Without End': merely a doorstop, it ain't

Ken Follett's new book is big, yes. But this historical epic, set in a 14th-century English town called Kingsbridge, is full of political and religious intrigue. It's a real page turner.

A cursory glance at this doorstop makes for an easy title revision: Story Without End. Thankfully, in "World Without End," Ken Follett makes the pages fly by in this loose sequel to his 1989 historical epic, "The Pillars of the Earth."

Set in the 14th century in the same English town of Kingsbridge, Follett offers a tale filled enough political and religious intrigue to fill several miniseries. Readers can enjoy the story even if they have not plowed through the earlier work; for those who have, references to the characters' ancestors and earlier adventures serve as a bit of literary lagniappe.

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He begins with an assassination attempt in the woods witnessed by four children who form the heart of the sweeping story. Their respective journeys intermingle through several decades of turbulent episodes, from a depleted way of life (caused by a threadbare wool market) to raw politics of gender and class. The Black Death looms above all else, wreaking havoc on families, social mores, and anything else its wake. Caris, a confounding free spirit and daughter of the town's richest resident, and Merthin, an aspiring architect and son of a down-on-his-luck knight, provide the book's ballast amid a panoply of intriguing characters. The town's 200-year-old cathedral anchors the town in every way, with church priors controlling all aspects of life.

Follett tells his tale well, so much so that this reader hated for it to end after a thousand pages flew by. Grade: A