Book Review: Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones
August 11, 2012 23 Comments
I 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?