The Armour of Light (UK) / The Armor of Light (US) (The Kingsbridge Novels, 5)

Written by Ken Follett
Review by Helen Johnson

New technology threatens workers’ jobs, war causes shocking food price inflation, hungry children depend on a free school meal. Welcome to 1792 in Kingsbridge, the fictional city created by Ken Follett for his epic Pillars of the Earth. The Armour of Light is another epic that follows a wide range of characters. The war against revolutionary France grinds on throughout the book, which ends after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815.

The story opens in 1792, with Sal, a poor villager, and her son Kit. Early on, Sal is widowed, plunging her into poverty. In order to survive, she migrates to Kingsbridge, where she and six-year-old Kit find work. Characters from all walks of life are gradually introduced, at first apparently randomly, but eventually meeting Sal and Kit. In 18th-century Kingsbridge, the poor get poorer while the rich line their pockets with profits from the war. Although fighting revolutionaries in France, it is the danger of revolution at home that really frightens the English government, and harsh new laws aim to keep workers in their place. It’s easy to see where Follett’s sympathies lie as he demonstrates how industry and war disrupt the social order. Lives are irrevocably changed – some destroyed altogether.

With so many characters, I feared losing track of who’s who, but the book’s length allows time to get to know one character before another is introduced, and, when necessary, the author inserts handy reminders.

The book is reminiscent of great Victorian novels, with its many characters, long time span, and omniscient narrator telling each character’s thoughts and feelings. However, it is easy to follow, keeps up interest throughout – and saves its surprise for the end. Recommended for lovers of socially aware historical fiction.