Reading this long long novel, I felt like I was binge-watching Downton Abby. It was part---"this is silly, I can't read another word, and part--gimme more...more." Follett spins a good yarn. His stories are magnificent period-piece soap operas. The plots are often contrived and the characters outsize. But, we keep reading anyway. I find his formula works for different periods of time, characters from different books slip into convenient plots in other stories, just as they do their period costumes.
This is the first of a trilogy (the second and third books, equally long, have already been published). This book begins the saga of several families, whose paths converge over and over, just as World War I is about to begin. The Dewar Family are American and Gus Dewar, the son, seems to miraculously rise in power until before the reader can digest it, he is advising Woodrow Wilson, who seems to always take his advice. Then there is the Williams Family, poor Welsh miners. Once again, miraculously, the children are gifted beyond belief. How is it that a 16 year old boy, on the first day of his job in the mines, is soon giving seasoned veterans advice when a crisis arises. Similarly, his sister, Ethel who plays a major role in the novel and begins as a parlor maid, within days is soon running the household as the head housekeeper. If we learned nothing else from Downton, we know there is a pecking order in grand country houses. From parlor maid to housekeeper in a matter of days----never!
Other main characters are also soon giving orders: the son of the German Ulrich Family is equally sought out for his advice. The brothers Peshkov, Russians, are spearheading the revolution. Well, you get the picture. The English Fitzherbert family whose fortunes cross all these characters, seem not quite as gifted as the others, but they hold power and position. All these families and characters meet, separate, and implausibly meet again. The book ends as World War I ends, and the Women's Movement is in full gear. There is a lot of history to digest withing these pages, and all the characters are movers and shakers who impact that history. Come to think of it, amongst them all, they seem to be running the world with their timely advice to the powers that be.
Did I enjoy this book? Of course--it was addictive like candy. It is not great literature, but it is great escapism. Will I read the other two volumes? Possibly.