A Column of Fire
by Ken Follett
Macmillan

Ken Follett writes meaty, emotionally vibrant block­busters. At first, he prod­uced up-to-the-minute thrillers, but Follett hit the really big time with The Pillars of the Earth (1989), whose plot revolved around the medieval Kingsbridge Cathedral. A sequel, World Without End (2007), now has its own sequel, turning Follett’s “Kingsbridge” novels into a trilogy.

Two centuries separate this book from the last. We begin just before the coronation of England’s Elizabeth I. Like World Without End, the story follows a rocky romance: not so much star-crossed lovers as religious-crossed ones. Protestant Ned Willard sounds like an American newsreader, but is actually a naive young adventurer who works as a spy for his ambitious but understandably paranoid new queen.

As her early anxieties centre on her rival, Mary Queen of Scots, Ned journeys to France and confronts an old friend working for the enemy. The girl he leaves behind is Catholic Margery Fitzgerald, who sounds herself like an elderly Scottish novelist, but is cheekily rebellious. So strong is Ned’s passion that he even refuses his gorgeous cousin Therese: “he had never before passed up the chance of kissing a pretty girl with nice breasts,” Follett notes, with Ned-like clumsiness. There are unfortunate political marriages, affairs and rivalries. Long but strong.