Book Review: Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones

The Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso FalconesI read this book on the way back from holiday. We were in Southern Spain and in the car, while driving the coast road towards France, we passed some of the places mentioned in the book, which made this historical fiction very relevant at the time of reading.

I expected this story to be similar to Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. While the writing is in the same gentle style, and there is a cathedral in both, the stories are very different. Pillars of the Earth is very much about people while Cathedral of the Sea is equally much about Barcelona and the politics and situations in the 14th Century (a few centuries after Pillars of the Earth, actually, but who is counting?).

Cathedral of the Sea: What it is about

From amazon: “A masterful epic of love, war, treason, plague, famine, witchcraft, anti-Semitism and the Inquisition.

14th-century Spain, the medieval city of Barcelona is enjoying a golden age of prosperity. Its humblest inhabitants are building, stone by stone, a magnificent church to overlook their harbour. This is the Cathedral of the Sea: a church to be built for the people by the people.

In its shadow, Arnau, a young serf on the run from his feudal lord, struggles to earn his freedom. After famine, plague and thwarted love, Arnau’s fortunes begin to turn when King Pedro makes him a baron as a reward for his courage in battle. But he is also forced to marry Eleonor, a ward of the King whom he does not love. His newfound status excites jealousy from his friends who plot his downfall with devastating consequences. Arnau’s journey from slave to nobleman is the story of a struggle between good and evil that will turn Church against State and brother against brother …”

Cathedral of the Sea: What I thought

This book is spell-binding, from the moment Arnau is born, until the end of this 600-page novel. Arnau doesn’t have an easy start in life, almost dying when his mother is forced to nurse the local lord’s child at the expense of her own son. With his father, he travels to Barcelona where they encounter the necessary injustices and hardships before becoming more prosperous.

I loved reading the story of Arnau and the time he lives in (14th Century Spain). I didn’t so much like the description of the politics of the time. Some of it felt as if the author was trying to educate me against my interest. I wanted to read a nice story and didn’t really want to know too much of the political issues of the time. Although, of course, some background knowledge was needed to understand the story.

Arnau, the main character got involved with a lot of different things (the building of the cathedral, foreign trade, pottery, the inquisition) and that seemed rather over the top. It felt like a way for the author to tell as much as possible about the time and place while using just one main character. It seemed a little too much to happen to one person.

The book is an easy read and it kept my interest all the way though. Arnau was (otherwise) a believable character with his virtues and his flaws. Definitely a good read if you like stories about low born people that come to play an important in their town and country.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 656

First published: 2006

I got this book: from a book swap last year

Genre: historical fiction

Have you read this book?

Did you enjoy it?


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

23 Responses to Book Review: Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones

  1. Chinoiseries says:

    I guess passing by locations mentioned in a book is indeed the best way to enjoy good historical fiction 🙂 Is the cathedral the Sagrada Familia? Sounds like a really nice read!

  2. As you know I’ve recently read The Hand of Fatima by the same author. It sounds as though this book might be slightly better. The Hand of Fatima felt overly long and lost my attention at times. I’m sure being in Spain increases the enjoyment of both books. I might keep my copy of Cathedral by the Sea safe for the next time I travel to Spain.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Jackie, maybe I should try *The Hand of Fatima* but I’m not sure, since you weren’t too keen. I could just start and see what I think – I don’t need to finish if I don’t like it! 🙂

  3. Tien says:

    Sounds great, Judith! Am reading Pillars at the moment 😉

  4. I think this is not for me (too much politics and history often spoil the story for me), but it must have been fun passing through cities and villages you were reading about.

  5. Plien says:

    I read this book many times and still love it.

  6. capriciousreader says:

    I know on the few occasions I’ve read a book set in a place I know, or even more rarely happened to be in, it made the experience all the more special. I loved Pillars of the Earth, for the characters, so I’m not totally sure this book is for me, but you definitely make me want to try it and see!

  7. What a deep sounding book! I have yet to read Pillars Of The Earth. Maybe that will be a winter read a long. 😀

  8. Tesney Ap says:

    Wow what a fantastic review! I feel like I need to read this book 🙂

  9. bibliosue says:

    How nice that you were able to see some of the places you were reading about as you were reading. I still haven’t read Pillars of the Earth but it’s on my list and I think I will be adding this one as well.

  10. Alex says:

    I’m glad it has your stamp of approval! It’s been on my TBR (original version) for a while, but I think I’ll pick it up soon, since I committed to reading at least one book in Spanish this year and so far, nothing.

  11. Definitely this book is much better than Ruiz Zafon’s zaga on Cementery of Forgotten Books.
    However, City of Marvels by Ildefonso Falcones is even better.
    I had my own list of best novels set in Barcelona at

  12. e;kjwf;kjbg says:

    I’m still reading “Cathedral of the Sea” and it’s really boring.. it’s all about love, and there is no excitement in the middle of the book.

  13. e;kjwf;kjbg says:


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