First, let me say this book is quite a beast. My version is 1000 some odd pages, some versions are 1400 pages (the print is a bit larger in those, it may have helped). Normally I really like bricks. I enjoy spending lots of time with characters. But this book spans about 10,000 years, so there really isn't one character to fall in love with. Ruthefurd wrote about five families located in Sarum, England. Sarum is located on the Salisbury Plain, the same one where Stonehenge is located (and yes, the building of Stonehenge is talked about in the first half of the book).
Reasons why I didn't like it: While he's writing about families that span generations, he uses the same character type over and over and over and over. If you are going to write a generational novel, you should make the characters similar, yes, but different enough so that they aren't interchangeable with each other. Also, not every generation has a family full of virile sons. Where were all the women in the families?? And when women did show up in his novel, why were they all obsessed with having oodles of children and religion??? I mean, c'mon!! Give the ladies some time in a thousand page novel, please. Only two women really stood out to me, and since this book slightly numbed my brain, I couldn't tell you what families they came from. But I can tell you that they were tomboyish, dressed like men, and wanted to be treated like men, and they were killed off quickly while the male parts of their family survived war and the Plague. Can you tell I wasn't happy with the female representation in this book? Usually I'm not so feministic, but this rubbed me the wrong way throughout this novel. Also, while reviews over on Amazon are full of people saying how awesome it is to learn about history through this novel, Ruthefurd really did a quick gloss of a lot of historical fact. And his biases in the Tudor chapter are still astounding to me.
Reasons why it was still an ok book: I LOVE reading about England, so I enjoyed watching Sarum build up throughout the ages. I liked the chapters about Stonehenge, the Cathedral in Sarum, and the Roman villas being designed. Ruthefurd has some skill in descriptions, and that was the only redeeming factor of this book.
It may seem like I am being harsh on Sarum. A lot of people really love this book, and I say good on them. I am not one of those people. I don't know if I'll read another Ruthefurd book or not. I have so many other authors that I love who write huge novels (anxiously awaiting Wolf Hall's sequel!), that I may put aside Ruthefurd and concentrate on them instead. Good for Ruthefurd for writing such a huge novel. I just wish the novel didn't make me fall asleep.
For reviews and buying purposes, the book can be found here.