cover image The Armor of Light

The Armor of Light

Ken Follett. Viking, $38 (752p) ISBN 978-0-525-95499-6

The fourth entry in Follett’s Kingsbridge series (after A Column of Fire) is another vibrant survey of British history from the perspective of ordinary people, this time spanning from 1792 to 1824. That scope allows Follett to cover the impact of new technology—the spinning jenny, which worked eight times as fast as the traditional spinning wheel—as well as nascent efforts by the English working class to speak up for their rights. Those developments are made accessible through characters such as Sal Clitheroe, whose husband, Harry, is fatally injured while harvesting the squire of Badford’s turnip crop. His death is caused by the negligence and callousness of the squire’s son, Will Riddick, who was overseeing the harvest, and instigates a cascade of hardships for Sal and her six-year-old son, Kit. When Sal’s request for financial assistance from the area’s Poor Relief Fund is refused, Kit is forced into service in the very home of the man responsible for his father’s death. The Clitheroe family’s thread is deftly interwoven with other storylines, including those of Elsie Latimer, the bishop’s daughter, who seeks to provide free education for the underprivileged, and clothier Amos Barrowfield, who wants to restore the family business to profitability. Follett is equally adept at portraying the horrors of war and his characters’ quiet moments of despair. The result is an impressive and immersive epic. (Sept.)