World Without End by Ken Follett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The book is about the lives of four children and the secret they kept for decades.
Gwenda who is forced to steal for her family and who is eventually sold by her Father, follows the older children into the forest to retrieve her dog Hop. The friendship she forges with Caris will help her survive.
Merthin made a bow when the adults refuse to allow him to practice with them Caris leads Merthin and his brother Alfred into the forest. Merthin proves unable to use the bow but Alfred is a natural with it. He shoots and kills Hop minutes before a knight fleeing his pursuers burst into the clearing. The children hide behind a bush but a desperate Thomas uses their presence to distract his pursuers. Ralph shoots and kills one of the men and Thomas manages to kill the other. Merthin stays behind when the other children leave and helps Thomas bury a dangerous letter that could get him killed if any one learns he knows about it.
Thomas shows up at the priory and blackmails the Queen into allowing him to stay at the monastery and become a monk. Merthin is apprenticed to a carpenter and Ralph becomes Earl Roland's squire.
Through hard work and intelligence Merthin becomes an excellent architect (like his ancestor Jack the Builder), his only disappointment is that Caris refuses to marry him as she doesn't wish to give up her independence. While they are apart he begins visiting with Elizabeth Clerk. When he refuses her advances she enters the nunnery. When Merthin and Caris eventually get back together and plan to marry Elizabeth accuses Caris of witchcraft and claims that Merthin and she were in love and planning to marry before Caris put a spell on him. She is backed up by Caris' cousin Prior Godwyn (who wants to prevent Kingsbridge from becoming a borough) his side kick Philemon (Gwenda's brother), and her brother-in-law Elfric (who will inherit her Father's money if she is hanged before Edmond dies). The only way for Caris to escape hanging is to enter the nunnery, which she does. Merthin leaves Kingsbridge and eventually becomes a successful architect in Florence where he marries Silvia and they have a daughter (Lolla). The plague strikes and Silvia dies, Merthin survives and Lolla never catches it. With no reason to stay in Florence Merthin decides to return to Kingsbridge.
Ralph's life has it's ups and downs. Due to his service he is made Lord of Wigleigh, where he persecutes Wulfric for breaking his nose when he flirted with Wulfric's fiancee Annet. When he refuses to allow Wulfric to inherit his families land (Wulfric's entire family died when the Kingsbridge bridge collapsed) Annet marries someone else. Gwenda who has been in love with Wulfric for years helps him and he eventually turns to her for comfort and marries her. In an attempt to help Wulfric get his land back Gwenda sleeps with Ralph, but he reneges on the promise he made her and gives the land to Annet's father. Ralph eventually rapes Annet and the peasants try to press charges against him, with the help of Lord William of Caster, later Earl William of Shiring. Ralph is found guilty of murder and briefly becomes an outlaw until Earl Roland pardons him. Earl Roland and his son Richard die in France, but Ralph becomes a favorite after saving the Prince of Wales life and Earl William is forced to allow his ward Tilly (Matilda of Tench) to marry him. When William and his sons die in the plague Ralph has a chance to become Earl but Tilly is in her way so he kills her so he can marry Lady Philippa (Earl William's widow). Lady Philippa despises him and takes refuge in the priory. She discretely has an affair with Merthin. When she becomes pregnant she breaks things off with Merthin and seduces Ralph so he will believe the child is his.
Earl Ralph takes great pleasure when Gwenda's eldest son is accused of murder. He delights in the fear in Wulfric's eyes when Sam is sentenced to be hanged. A desperate Gwenda visit Ralph and tells him that Sam is his son. Ralph pardons Sam and makes him a squire. But when he realizes that Wulfric doesn't know blackmails Gwenda into sleeping with him. Sam stumbles upon them when Ralph is forcing himself on her and kills him. Gwenda and Sam are able to hide their crime.
Caris is able to leave the nunnery and marry Merthin. When Thomas dies Merthin digs up the letter and is able to use it to prevent Philemon from destroying Kingsbridge.
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