Cathedral by Ben Hopkins

Cathedral is set in Hagenberg in the 12th and 13th centuries. It takes in the lives of various characters who live in Hagenberg and who are effected by the building of the cathedral. That’s everyone from the clergyman who has to find the money to finance it, the artisans who work on the architecture and artistic works, and the people who live in the town and are taxed and tithed to pay for the work. We see the lives starting out, growing, and reaching their various ends, all as work on the cathedral goes on and the plans for the massive undertaking change.

It’s perhaps a little hard to describe this book because it’s so long and takes in a lot. There are large events, political events and machinations, wars and skirmishes, and also the passions and lives of individuals. Each chapter has a title and tells us which character is at the fore for that part, which works really well. But there’s not one simple plot, like smaller novels have.

Each different character is really full, vibrant and you can really hear each voice. They all make sense in their social context. Some have a more coarse way of thinking, others maybe more refined but more calculating and judging. And each has their own journey. They cross paths with each other, of course, but they all have their own paths. (Manfred was my least favorite, I liked the Machiavellian money counting clergyman and canny Grete who makes her own way. They’re all interesting characters though)

I really like historical fiction like this. It’s so immersive and well researched. And there’s always something going on, so even though it’s long, it’s not filler, (so to speak) and moves swiftly. I really get taken out of the moment if there anachronisms and poor research and understanding of an era. It makes me a bit of a picky reader when it comes to historical fiction. But this was so nice. I felt immersed in the era, and just taken along by all the stories and the building of the cathedral.

Read It If: you liked Hilary Mantel and Umberto Eco, this is a lovely, long, immersive read. I really enjoyed it.

Thank you PGC Books for the Advance Copy of this book for review. Cathedral is out now.

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