You know that a book is going to be a wonderfully epic novel when the first line is: "The small boys came early to the hanging." The novel lived up to the tremendous first line because it was honestly 900 pages and then some of wonderful prose.
The Pillars of the Earth was written by Ken Follett and came out in 1989. It takes place in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England in the 12th century and the centerpiece of the novel - the thread that binds everyone in the tapestry together - is the building of the town's new cathedral. It takes place during an important period - the time between the sinking of a ship and the murder of the Archbishop, Thomas Becket (both of which play somewhat important roles in the novel). When we meet the town of Kingsbridge, Henry has already died and there is no clear heir. Maud (his daughter) and Stephen are fighting for the throne. Tom Builder, a master builder, is searching for work for his family of four (soon to be five) because the rich man whose house he was building suddenly found himself without need for it, after being rejected by the woman that was to be his wife. We also meet Phillip, a devout monk who has such a sad history (that we learn about fairly early on in the novel) and who is so kindly and smart, but naive and trusting at the same time. Lady Aliena is the third main character in the novel, and is the woman who was supposed to get married but called the marriage off.
Please don't believe the people that say that this is just a book about cathedrals and church architecture because it is so much more than that (and even though the descriptions of the architecture and the process of building were fascinating). It is also about the intricacies of history - the battles, the changes of power, the role of the church, the life of the people that lived during that period, the rebellions - and the intricacies of relationships between people. We bear witness to the tragedies and joys of the main characters and the hardships that they must so often bear. Be warned - Follett doesn't shy away from the brutality of the times either and there are a few scenes that are just awful and made me cry. I loved this book because of the subject matter and even because of the length. A must read and I can't wait to read the sequel!