Combining historical fiction and a tale of adventure and intrigue, this novel is centered around a cathedral whose design and construction in the 12th and 13th centuries unites a vast array of characters whose fortunes are inseparable from the shifting political factions and economic interests vying for supremacy.
A fat 600 pages, set across forty years of the thirteenth century, Cathedral brings together religion, politics, trade and family in a noisy chronicle of territorial battles, domestic squabbles, and the strains and rivalries of work ... Ben Hopkins has written a good old-fashioned historical novel, alive with dramatic detail rather than encrusted with period research. It is light on its feet, too. The sentences are short, as are the chapters, the language is simple yet sharp, and the reader races happily over the terrain ... Each voice and viewpoint is nicely distinct – there is no single lens – and the narrative often jumps in time when it changes between characters, leaving the reader the enjoyable task of putting together the full story ... That said, there is no conventional narrative arc either. Excitingly, things just keep happening. Friendships are made and broken, factions unite and fracture, fortunes rise and fall and rise again. Events that might be meaningful turning points, or significant resolutions, simply generate further action ... All this activity may seem shockingly futile, unless survival – in and of itself – can be called a purpose ... And the cathedral? In a novel shaped and dominated by life’s rough-edged realities, it stands as a perfect symbol.
The riveting story of the lives and motivations of cathedral builders: of humble serfs turned quarry workers; of visionary artists; of those who collected the harsh taxes and arranged the bequests that funded cathedral-building efforts; and of kings, emperors, and popes, each with their own motivations and purposes for building, which often had little to do with honoring the divine ... Cinematic in color and scope, the tale begins in 1229, in the Rhineland town of Hagenburg, where a young serf determines to use his carving skills, and money from Jewish lenders, to purchase his freedom ... the gripping narrative unveils a 'network of barterings, promises, investments, and gambles' that twist and shape the lives of the young carver and fifteen others.
British filmmaker Hopkins’s ambitious and satisfying debut uses a big story—the century-plus cathedral building project in Hagenburg in the Holy Roman Empire (now Lower Saxony)—to tell an even bigger story—the rise of merchants and the corresponding decline of the church through the 13th century ... Six hundred pages sounds long, but this deeply human take on a medieval city and its commerce and aspirations, its violent battles and small intimacies, never feels that way. This sweeping work is as impressive as the cathedral at its center.