I’m not one of those people with stacks of books in a TBR pile – in fact, I own very few books. Years ago, I decided that the library was a much better way to go and easier on the bank account. Now in the days of Covid, I mainly borrow e-books, which is even better as I can just return it with a touch and look for my next read. In my latest scroll of available books, I found this one – I’ve never read any of Ken Follett’s books previously, but this one caught my interest with the cover, and as it’s historical fiction (my usual go to) I thought I would give it a shot. And wow, it has everything! There’s power, money, greed, murder, thwarted romance, and everything else that would make a good mini-series (if that sort of thing was on TV these days).
It starts in 1866 at a private boys school with the death of one young student under suspicious circumstances. Three boys were involved, and one is blamed for the death which is eventually deemed accidental. The consequences of this carry forward and affect the lives of the boys for years to come.
Hugh and Edward are cousins, part of the Pilaster family which owns one of the largest banks in London. Miguel Miranda, aka Micky, is a student from South America and Edward’s co-conspirator in all mischievous stunts. Micky is devious, and plans to use his friendship with Edward to become a rich man himself. Hugh is the poor relation, but he has the brains and ambition to work in the banking business, while Edward is content to inherit his position and do as little as possible. His mother, Augusta, is a true diva; always pulling strings behind the scenes, plotting someone’s downfall or doing her best to make everyone’s life miserable. She made me think of Alexis Carrington on the old tv show Dynasty.
Then we have Maisie Robinson, who had to run away from home as a young girl to earn a living. She starts out as a circus performer, and ends up in London where her path crosses with Hugh. Sparks fly between them, but their youthful romance is cut short when Augusta finds them together; still, their lives continue to be entwined by mutual relationships.
The book encompasses over 30 years, and the time jumps are frequent. The characters mature into what you expect from their younger selves – some are honest and good people; others become liars and users, hurting others in their path. Ken Follett does a good job of setting the time period – you can picture the brothels and debauchery that went on there in contrast to the magnificent mansions and ballrooms where the wealthy plotted their schemes. In some ways, maybe the plot is predictable but I found it kept my interest right up to the end.