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A Column of Fire

Written by: Ken Follett
Narrated by: John Lee
Length: 30 hrs and 19 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (350 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Number-one New York Times best-seller.

“Absorbing...impossible to resist.” (The Washington Post)

As Europe erupts, can one young spy protect his queen? Number-one New York Times best-selling author Ken Follett takes us deep into the treacherous world of powerful monarchs, intrigue, murder, and treason with his magnificent new epic, A Column of Fire

A thrilling listen that makes the perfect gift for the holidays. 

In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love. 

Ned Willard wants nothing more than to marry Margery Fitzgerald. But when the lovers find themselves on opposing sides of the religious conflict dividing the country, Ned goes to work for Princess Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, all Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch sets up the country's first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions, and invasion plans. Over a turbulent half century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. Elizabeth clings to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents. 

The real enemies, then as now, are not the rival religions. The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else - no matter what the cost. 

Set during one of the most turbulent and revolutionary times in history, A Column of Fire is one of Follett's most exciting and ambitious works yet. It will delight longtime fans of the Kingsbridge series and is the perfect introduction for listeners new to Ken Follett. 

©2017 Ken Follett (P)2017 Penguin Audio

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Cannot get enough of Ken Follett

This is my third Ken Follett book of the year, two were audio books and one a hard copy. I love history and the way that Ken weaves fiction with historical events and characters is mesmerizing. Love John Lee as the storyteller of his audiobook, as that is a huge deciding factor for my choices. John Lee gives life to every single character that makes them personable and relatable. Two of these masters put together make for an extremely enjoyable time with my audiobook. I pray that there is more to come! Enjoy this novel and their creators! I was actually sad when the book came to an end.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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not as gripping as other Follett books but brillia

It was not as gripping as other Follett books but performed brilliantly by John Lee.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Best Book in the Series.

Amazing, love this book. Action and adventure, suspense it has it all. Easily stand alone.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Black Hats vs. White Hats 2.0

As much as I love Follett's historical works, (the Kingsbridge and Century trilogies), one theme predominates: white hat-wearing good guys with hearts as pure as the driven snow are trampled under the tyranny of of black-hatted despots, tyrants, bullies and generally evil monsters in human form. The good guys suffer every indignity and outrage imaginable for 600 pages but then, at the end, the bad guys suffer one final defeat and the good guys find 20 bucks, so all ends well.

This is effective, if predictable storytelling and I'm a sucker for it time and again.

With a Column of Fire, however, it seems some grey hats have entered the midst. You can summon some empathy for some of the black hats, some of the time. The white hats mull over some of their morally questionable actions.

This made the characters more relatable, more charming, more chewy -- and for me, this makes A Column of Fire the best of his historical works so far.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Great mixture of fact and fiction

Since finishing Pillars of the Earth I kept thinking that the next book in the series can’t possibly be as good. I’m pleased to say that now I’ve been wrong for the second time.
At the end of this book the author lists which characters in the book are real historical figures, and the list is extensive. He incorporates these figures with the the ones he’s created to make a very interesting read (or listen).

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Mac
  • 2018-01-22

neither smoke nor fire

a weaker Ken Follett entry. Too sprawling, and weak character development. As always a nice take on history, but the heart of the book just isn't there.

Solid voice acting though.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Loved it.

Ken Follett is an amazing story teller. . It's a rich history lesson with amazing twists and turns. .

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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can't get enough of Ken Follet.

this book mixes historical facts with fictional characters who felt all to real. The sex was considerably less than in the prior books in the trilogy which made it much easier to get through. The religious animosity, which is historically factual made me sad that humanity hasn't evolved all these centuries later. In my next life I hope to be Mr. Follett's research assistant :). absolutely loved this book

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Very good, but...

Very good. However, it is my least favorite of the three Kingsbridge novels. I appreciate the sweeping scale involving different points of view and countries. But, and I'll generalize here so as not to spoil much... I was often extremely disappointed with how some of the characters you're driven to hate meet their end in such sudden, glossed-over and anticlimactic ways. And then there are other evil characters who have protracted yet unsatisfying ends. I know it's a historical setting, but the writing is also plenty sensationalized. I like that, but please deliver the goods when it comes to the resolution of the fictional characters.

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One more jewel!

One more amazing and interesting novel by Ken Follet. John Lee makes them
all even better!!
Loved it!

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  • James
  • 2017-09-15

Just like the first two...

I have no idea how this ended up with such a low score here. It gets a 4.29 on Goodreads right now, and I cannot imagine the low score is John Lee's fault!

If you loved the other two then you will love this one.

46 of 50 people found this review helpful

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  • James
  • 2017-09-30

Love Follett, but this wasn’t his best

Similar to the third book in the century series, A Column of Fire is just a bit less entertaining than the previous two of the series. Still worth a listen.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Drob631
  • 2017-09-30

A great epic by a master storyteller

This is a richly detailed historical novel. The narration is excellent. The story is compelling and reveals the brutal depths of the religious conflict in Europe during the 1540’s to the 1600’s. If you are a fan of Ken Follett you will not be disappointed.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • Chip Atkinson
  • 2017-10-11

Follett is a Master Storyteller

A Column of Fire is set in Kingsbridge shortly after the death of Henry III. His daughter Mary is queen and England's alliance with the Roman Catolic Church has been restored. Thus, the tensions between Protestant and Catholic faiths are seething. Unlike Pillars of the Earth, where few of us if any knew the history of earliest England, there is little mystery or revelation surrounding the actual events of the times. Yet it is Follett's skill at weaving extradorniary characters and stories with historical events that make this book a worthy sequel.

Within moments, he introduces us to a string villains and heroes we are immediately attracted too. There are impending conflicts, the dread of loss and the hope of true love.

Creating characters with religious motivations is remarkably difficult. One has to assume the subject's degree of education, upbringing, sincerity and moral character to make it believable. Follett is great at this. And even today, it is clear that many sincere people of faith often believe, live, teach and manipulate others in direct conflict with their own religion. However, having studied the history of Catholicism in Europe, I do take issue with Folllet's view of Catholicism (and really all of Christianity) history. His disdain for the Catholic faith is impossible to hide.

I bring that up, because even though I personally took issue with his prejudice, A Column of Fire grabbed me from the beginning and kept me riveted till the end.

58 of 64 people found this review helpful

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  • Simone
  • 2017-11-15

Should have been a stand-alone instead of Book 3

I am about three quarters of the way into this book, and I don’t need to wait until the end to give my opinion.

Overall I liked it, but I found that there was A LOT more 'tell' than 'show' and although it was interesting, it felt more like a non-fiction historical lesson sprinkled over with a few lively scenes rather than a gripping novel. Long stretches of informative narration and very little dialogue.

In addition, I am not sure why this is considered Book 3 in the series; Kingsbridge makes a cameo appearance in the book but most of the story takes place in Paris. I think linking this book into the series was a disservice because everyone is comparing the books and this one is emerging as the weakest in the trilogy. If it was a stand-alone book, I think the reviews would be stronger… including mine!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Louis
  • 2017-10-02

Lots of History

Historical Fiction for me is a way to learn a lot about history without really realizing it. This book achieves this. The history in this book is woven in a great story and is connected by family. This was a violent time and it was developed appropriately. No one was right and all were wrong. I went to catholic school and somehow missed this part of history. I could not put the book down except when I went to the computer to augment what I was listening to.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Tokeyna
  • 2017-09-17

I expected more

The first book gripped me right away. I was an instant fan. The violence and cruelty made me dislike the author for all the misfortune and loss the characters suffered at the hands of greedy b@stards.
Pillars made me smile, made me laugh and made me cry. The book was a roller coaster of emotions. I felt like I truly knew and loved these people.
The second book was just as good, but lost a little of the cruelty and detail that made me so horrified by the first. I was peachy with that.
This last book, although also very good, is just not as gripping as the first or second. I love all the little references to the original book, but the evil plots are not near as sinister as before.

If I had read this book first, I would love it even more. It's a fantastic book. The things that made me dislike the author, hate even, in the first book are what made the book so hard to put down. I just wish he could have kept that same momentum going.

I recently read another book series about a time traveling witch and a vampire, that spend some time in the Elizabethen era, and comparing some of the charachters, such as Lord Umberland, some of the spies, and the Queen herself was a fun little bonus!!

That's all, I hope you enjoy the book!

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • 070316
  • 2017-09-13

WONDERFUL--As Good as Pillars of the Earth!

Any additional comments?

I bought this book as soon as I woke up this morning--been waiting anxiously for it for weeks! I have been listening all day, I'm about halfway through and am just enjoying it immensely. Ken Follett brings the everyday lives of everyday people in the period to vivid life. Ned and Margery are real to me, as are Carlos, Barney, Father Alfonso the Inquisitor (shudder) and all the others and yay...we even have a stupid brutal thug as the Earl of Shiring. Pillars of the Earth was one of my four favorite books of all time (the others being River God, Polar Star and Sailing to Sarantium). I've read and listened to 'Pillars' at least half a dozen times. I'm certain this book will now be added to that list.John Lee is one of my all-time favorite narrators (the other being Simon Vance). I love his work--I always start out a book narrated by him listening to and enjoying the slight hint of a Sean Connery accent, but then soon forget I'm even hearing a narrator's voice at all, I'm just...there,in the story, a part of the crowd listening to the people talking and watching them as they struggle, fight, love, make mistakes and sometimes, die.One funny little anachronism in this story, totally the fault of the editor, but it made me laugh. King Henry VIII's daughter, Mary, is on the throne. A fanatic Catholic, she is burning Protestants and other heretics by the thousands. Religious 'thought police' are everywhere, ordinary people extremely careful in everything they say and do publicly, for fear their neighbors will inform on them. We see a 15 year old girl, daughter of a book printer of subversive Protestant teachings, in the marketplace, she meets a handsome young man and later thinks of him as a 'dreamboat.' Ummm? Seriously, Mr. or Ms. Editor? Teenaged girls in the 1540s thought of handsome young men as...dreamboats? haha, just made me laugh, but didn't diminish the story for me, at all.If you loved Pillars of the Earth, you will love Column of Fire. That is all.

87 of 109 people found this review helpful

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  • Tracy Bisbee
  • 2017-09-22

My favorite author !

A marvelous trilogy but I must admit pillars of the earth is still my all-time favorite! I hope there is a book four that follows Jack to the New World !
( hint hint Mr.Follett ) lol

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Taryn
  • 2018-01-21

Very slow ending to a great series

I truly loved the first two books in this series. Pillars of the Earth, remains one of my favorite sagas. This book however, was a poor ending to a fabulous series. It was slow, plodding and although I learned some history lessons it was not in any way equal to the first two. It seemed that Ken Follett got bored or had writers block and just wrote it or had someone else write it for him to make some money and capitalize on the success of the first two books. The only saving grace was the narration by John Lee, which was excellent and perfect for the story.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • GERARD
  • 2018-09-19

Wonderful book in a horrible cover

I didn’t know John Lee, but hits performance nearly repelled me.
What a soporific voice.
Please please stop reading books for audible.
Ask Jim Dale next time.