Edge of Eternity is the third and final instalment in Ken Follett’s The Century trilogy, following on from Fall of Giants (2010) and Winter of the World (2012). The trilogy follows five families through the epic events of the 20th century; from World War I, the Russian Revolution, and women’s suffrage (Fall of Giants), to World War II and the rise of Communism in eastern Europe.
Edge of Eternity completes the story with a focus on the civil rights movement, the Cold War, and the subsequent fall of the Iron Curtain. The same five families that began the story in Fall of Giants feature again, this time the grandchildren of those original characters. It’s not at all necessary to have read either of the two preceding books but it does flesh out the backstory of the parents and grandparents, providing for a deeper understanding of where the characters now find themselves in history. The different families’ histories entwine over the decades as their passions and struggles see them cross continents in search of fame, in pursuit of love, and in the service of their countries.
The amount of historical research that has clearly gone into the trilogy is impressive. But Ken Follett has always been, first and foremost, a fantastic storyteller. Such is his skill at heightening suspense and drawing the reader into the action, that it almost comes as a surprise when the Cuban Missile Crisis doesn’t end in nuclear annihilation, when Robert Kennedy is assassinated less than five years after his brother met the same fate, and when the Berlin Wall falls. No “spoiler alert” warning needed, these are commonly-known historical events.Through chance, coincidence, and hard work, Follett’s characters seem to always manage to have a front row seat at any event of historical importance. It feels a bit Forrest Gump at times, but it does make for great reading. There are many real life personalities in the book (JFK, Khrushchev, Wałęsa, and Martin Luther King, to mention but a few) but the focus stays on our core cast of characters – civil rights lawyer George Jakes, Rebecca Hoffman and Walli Franck who long to flee communist East Berlin, Kremlin aide Dimka Dvorkin and his activist sister Tania, musician Dave Williams and his scandalous sister Evie. Having followed these characters and their ancestors throughout decades, they seem even more real and memorable than the actual historical personalities we meet along the way.
No review would be complete without addressing the elephant in the room: this is a Big Book. Big. Huge. At 1004 pages, Edge of Eternity is 172 pages longer than Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. When I tried unsuccessfully to smuggle it into my handbag to read surreptitiously at my daughter’s ballet lesson, even I, a book purist, was forced to concede that there are conveniences to e-books. Weighing 1.2kg, the hardback edition of this book allows you to skip the upper body part of your gym workout for a couple of weeks.
But don’t let its size deter you. Edge of Eternity isn’t as mentally taxing as it is physically cumbersome. There is plenty of humour, humanity, sex and intrigue to keep the story moving. It is an enjoyable and entertaining read, and nicely rounds off the trilogy. Follett fans will not be disappointed.
Review by Tiffany Matsis
Edge of Eternity
by Ken Follett
Published by Macmillan