This was a book club pick - one which I toyed with choosing a year ago myself and put down after about 200 pages and the first graphic rape scene assuming the rest of the ladies in the group would find it too disturbing. I'm so glad someone else had the courage to pick it and make everyone read to the end. With its mammoth size at 973 pages it is very intimidating but, as our group proved, it can be done in a month and is so worth the read!
The story and characters are so well developed and fascinating that even when I was under pressure to finish in time for the discussion (which I didn't!) I couldn't force myself to skip ahead or even skim quickly. The story tells the struggle over the decades to design and build a cathedral in a small town in England. It is told from the point of view of the builders as well as the monks who are financing and encompasses bishops, earls, lords, entrepreneurs and the struggles of a civil war to determine the new king. The information on architecture and medieval society were enthralling and the author weaved the fictional story beautifully into the history of the times so it was marginally educational as well as entertaining giving the reader a glimpse into what it might have been like living in the time period. The overall story arch is a mystery that spans almost two generations before finally being solved and keeps you guessing until the very end. The story was never predictable and is raw and authentic and emotional.
I went back and forth on what to rate this book but in the end I chose 4 stars instead of 5 simply because it is not an easy read. With so many characters and story lines it requires dedication to stick with it. Unlike many, it is not a book you can easily carry around reading only here and there and thus not one I would read again - which is my own personal criteria of a 5-star tome. Pick it up when you have time to dedicate because you won't want to put it down once you start.