On the heels of my friend Quincy’s posts on his Top 100 Novels (here), I decided that I would read significantly more fiction in 2022. Fiction is notoriously subjective and at least one of the novels I read this year I truly believe is overrated. I also picked up books that were never destined to be anyone’s favorites simply because I have enjoyed the true diversion the author has afforded me in her other works. I was also able this year to reintroduce my children to The Chronicles Narnia which I hold as a truly exceptional series and introduce them to The Hobbit. I am thrilled that they seem to appreciate both Lewis and Tolkien as much as I do and I look forward to many fun conversations around these works. But since I have read both Narnia and The Lord of the Rings a few times I am leaving them off this review. This year two authors captivated my attention with their fiction and I think each of these works is well worth the time invested in their worlds.
Pillars of the Earth By Ken Follet
I genuinely loved this story about a building, as Follet says the people come and go which allows the Cathedral to be the true center of the story. Pillars of the Earth is the story of the building of a fictitious English cathedral and the monastery which undertakes the building. I loved how the men who were chiefly responsible for the building were men of true devotion, particularly Prior Philip who truly displays Christian character. While the chief builders seem devoted to the cathedral in and of itself as a grand building, Philip’s story of piety helps capture the true purpose of a cathedral and how the Church at its best protects, serves, and elevates the community. Counter to this main theme are the machinations of the Earls, Bishops, and Royals whose self seeking, both contrasts with Philip and his people and constantly threatens to undermine the building. In one sense this is a commentary on the Church that when it is caught up in the political and institutional glory of society it cannot help but undermine the truly pious building of the Church. I think it is telling the Follet did not initially want to create such a pious community but it comes out as the book progresses, and the characters though pious are very human struggling with good and evil and often making mistakes. This was simply an exceptional piece of historical fiction.
Warning: There are graphic depictions of sexual activity and violence including rape.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
From historical fiction to Sci-fi, finished the first four books of Card’s Ender series and it very well done, particularly the first two books Ender’s Game & Speaker for the Dead. The basic plot of the first book is that a young boy is taken from his family for special military training because he shows potential to be the hero humanity needs. Card’s Mormon background certainly comes out at points in these novels as Ender is compelled by at least generically religious motives, but the beauty of the book is how these motives are set against a truly brutal streak and the readers like the hero are forced to wrestle with this. The theme of subsequent books is how Ender has somewhat perversely become his own greatest critic and now is trying to balance the narrative created by the war in his own persona. The audience in some ways grows with Ender as he begins as a hyper-intelligent boy using his gifts to guarantee his own survival, but develops into a man who works to aids individuals who by conventional logic he should hate.
By no means are either of these books for everyone, I recognize that realistic historical fiction and sci-fi are not categories most people frequently read, but I do recommend these books as exceptional works within their respective genres.