Ken Follett was only twenty-seven when he wrote the award-winning novel Eye of the Needle which became an international bestseller. He has since written several equally successful novels, including, most recently, HORNET FLIGHT. He is also author of the non-fiction bestseller On Wings of Eagles.
Follett's latest (following A Dangerous Fortune, Delacorte, 1993) begins in the coal-mining region of 18th-century Scotland. The author convincingly evokes the grim, hard life of the miners, one of whom defies the brutal authority of the owner and is forced to flee. Mack ends up in London, but more defiance causes him to be deported to the American Colonies. Characters, whom he seems to find no matter where he goes, are Jay Jamisson, the weak-willed and bitter younger son of Sir George Jamisson, owner of the Scottish mines, and Lizzie, Jay's spunky, soft-hearted wife, who soon realizes what a horrid man she has married. The characters are stereotypes and coincidental meetings abound, but the historical picture of suffering and of injustice done to the poor is well drawn. Also, the writing has a certain verve and energy that keeps the reader interested. Recommended for most collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/95.]-Patricia Altner, Information Seekers, Bowie, Md.
The key to Follett's absorbing new historical novel (after A Dangerous Fortune) lies in words that ``made a slave of every Scottish miner's son'' in the 1700s: ``I pledge this child to work in [the laird's] mines, boy and man, for as long as he is able, or until he die.'' When young Malachi (Mack) McAsh challenges this practice, citing its illegality, he begins a pattern of rebelling against authority while pursuing justice. Mack's dangerous quest for freedom makes him a fugitive in High Glen, where he is brutally punished by Sir George Jamisson in retaliation for his intention to quit the mines. After escaping to London, Mack confronts injustice again when he tries to break the monopoly of ``undertakers,'' who furnish crews to unload coal from ships; arrested and tried, he is transported to Virginia as an indentured servant. All this time, his fate is intertwined with that of Lizzie Hallim, daughter of the impoverished laird of High Glen, who is as spirited, independent-minded and daring as is Mack himself. (Readers may not quite believe her sexual aggressiveness, but Follett knows how to strike chords with feminists.) But Lizzie is gentry, so she must marry Jay, the younger Jamisson son. Follett adroitly escalates the suspense by mixing intrigue and danger, tinged with ironic complications. He also provides authoritative background detail, including specifics about the brutal working conditions of mine workers and coal heavers and the routine of an American tobacco plantation. History is served by references to real-life English liberal John Wilkes, who challenged the established view that the virtual enslavement of ``common'' men by aristocrats was God's will, and events in Virginia as the Colonies move toward rebellion. If the dialogue sometimes seems lifted from a bodice-ripper, and if far-fetched coincidences keep flinging Lizzie and Mack together, these flaws are redeemed by Follett's vigorous narrative drive and keen eye for character. BOMC and QPB main selections; Reader's Digest Condensed Book selection; simultaneous Random House audio and large-print editions; author tour. (Sept.)