The Evening and the Morning (Kingsbridge)
“the story Follett weaves grabs you from the start and holds you in its grip till the fairy tale ending. The book is well-researched and well-written—all in all an excellent, engrossing read.”
Ken Follett’s prequel to The Pillars of the Earth is a monumental story set in the Dark Ages between 997 CE and 1007 CE in an England under constant attack by the Vikings and the Welsh, and with a tenuous relationship with Normandy across the Channel. The historical backdrop to the story, on the one hand, is the evolving relationship between the English ruler, King Ethelred, and his nobles, who often flaunt his dictates and dispense a law of their own, and on the other, the strains in a blossoming church which has some leaders who strive to be holy and spiritual and others who exploit the believers by stealing from, and preying on, them sexually.
The protagonists are Edgar, the scion of a boat building family from Combe in southern England, Ragna, the daughter of Count Hubert of Cherbourg who marries Wilf, the ealdorman of Shiring who takes her to England, and Aldred, a chaste and judicious monk, who befriends both Edgar and Ragna. The main villain of the story is the Bishop Wynstan, the powerful and degenerate half-brother of Wilf, who sees Ragna as a threat and does everything in his power to destroy her.
The story opens as Combe is destroyed by a Vikingraid, but fortunately, Edgar, his mother and two brothers survive. To get rid of the forthright boat builder, Wynstan, who is visiting the destroyed site with Wilf and his younger brother, Wigelm, grants the destitute family an abandoned farm in Dreng’s Ferry, a village under his control through his complicit cousins Dreng and Degbert. Over time, the family prospers, largely with Edgar’s hard labor and cleverness, by directing his brothers to help him make the farm work. The brothers share a wife, the slovenly daughter of Dreng, who owns an alehouse and the ferry franchise. A builder, Edgar builds a pontoon bridge across the river which replaces the ferry and brings wealth to the village, until Wynstan connives to burn it down. Dejected, Edgar moves to town to earn a living as a builder, leaving the farm to his brothers.
Aldred’s path crosses often with Edgar’s, and indeed the monk has a secret crush on the boat builder that remains unrequited throughout the book; nevertheless, they become steadfast and close friends. Indeed, the two together uncover a counterfeiting operation headed up by Wynstan and his cousin Degbert, the degenerate minister in charge of the rundown church in Dreng’s Ferry—this serves to strengthen Wynstan’s hate for the two.
Edgar has occasional but welcome contact with Ragna whose marriage to Wilf is destroyed by his insistence on sleeping with other women, including his first wife whose existence had been hidden from her, and a nubile young slave who becomes his concubine. Ragna sticks by Wilf though, and they have three children. Wilf goes off to battle the Welsh and suffers a bad head wound that incapacitates him. With Aldred’s help, she gets Wilf to sign a will which has her as his successor until his oldest son by her, Osbert, reaches majority, but to prevent this from taking effect, Wynstan and Wigelm murder the incapacitated Wilf and imprison Ragna and her children.
But the story ends on a happy note after a lot more ups and downs along the way
Like Follett’s other historical novels, The Evening and the Morning too is long and full of much detail and side plots. But the story Follett weaves grabs you from the start and holds you in its grip till the fairy tale ending. The book is well-researched and well-written—all in all an excellent, engrossing read.