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Tom Builder starts out as an ambitious family man with a pregnant wife and two children, cruel Alfred and shy Martha, engaged in the building of a home for William Hamleigh and his future bride, Lady Aliena, but desperate to one day design and build his own cathedral. Unfortunately for all involved, Lady Aliena refuses William Hamleigh's proposal, causing him to cancel the building, leaving Tom Builder and his family destitute, and become an archetypal villain. Some trials later and Tom Builder is employed by Prior Philip at Knightsbridge to build a beautiful cathedral. The book follows the cathedral itself and the characters and stories that occur in its shadow.
There is something almost fairytale-esque about the characters: a despicably cruel Lord, a wise prior, a beautiful damsel in distress and the boy in love with her. And even while I was noticing this, I was responding to them in exactly the way I would have when I was reading fairytales - I wouldn’t have been unsurprised to have unwittingly ‘boo’ at the book! I certainly cried on more than one occasion. Because if nothing else, this book is packed full of emotion and captivating for it.
History is taught via the plights of the protagonists and there is something to be said for its medieval merit. By following a cathedral, the reader can learn a lot about the importance of religion in medieval society, about rule under the feudal system and even Gothic architecture without ever even realising it or being bored.
Some cynics might criticise areas of the book for being a little contrived - but that really depends on whether you believe in ‘miracles’ or not, doesn’t it?
Overall: All the hyperbole is true, this book is epic and genuinely and enchantingly beautiful. So incredible that the 1000+ pages passed by in a blink and I was truly sorry to finish it! One of the best books I have read in years - don’t hesitate - if it’s nearby, start it now!