It certainly took a long time for me to get through the 36 CDs of Ken Follett's World Without End audiobook. But I enjoyed it to the same degree as its prequel, The Pillars of the Earth.
Set almost two centuries after the 12th century events in Pillars, World Without End takes place in the English town of Kingsbridge and presents the stories of various merchants and townspeople, the monks and the nuns, and the ruling class. The novel is set around the plague (aka the black death) and its disastrous effects on the populace.
There's Merthin, a bright young man with architectural skills who wants to build the tallest tower in all of England. His brother, Ralph, has quite a mean streak and puts it to good use. Caris is Merthin's love interest, wants to be a doctor, and is about as much of a feminist was you could be in the year 1330. Gwenda is a peasant girl who's also one of the unluckiest people in the novel. Follett builds the plot around these main characters from their childhood into late adulthood.
As in Pillars, Follett creates characters that are almost tangible, characters that you miss once the novel is over. My prior criticism persists - the bad guys are bad and the good guys are good and there's very little gray. World Without End features even more of both kinds. And like before, there were times when I'd get frustrated because at every turn the bad guys would quash whatever the good guys were trying to do.
However, in World Without End there's sex, sex, sex. Everybody in the 14th century seems to be interested in making the creature with two backs as often as possible. I really got tired of hearing about someone's triangle of pubic hair or someone else's erect penis. Honestly, it got to be distracting.
And another thing about World Without End - the subplots are so intertwined that it often felt like I was listening to a medieval version of Knots Landing. For the record, another TV mini-series is planned for World Without End, to air in England sometime this year. No surprise.
But it's the strength of the characters and what seems to be a historically accurate setting that carries World Without End and makes it enjoyable. The characters overcome my poor appreciation for history (or more accurately, my inability to imagine people of the 14th century as being just like you and me but without the internet). When the TV mini-series' make it here (I think TNT has already run the one for Pillars) I'll try to watch.
I really do need to reread some of Follett's mysteries. I don't recall the characters being that strong. Maybe its just that after spending a couple of months hearing about them that I become used to them. Or maybe Follett is just much more personally interested in and motivated by these period pieces. Regardless, it works for me.
For more information, here's Follett's webpage about the book and one about the TV adaptation.