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Publisher's Summary

At last: The international best seller - which has already sold nearly 2 million copies worldwide - comes to America!

Cathedral of the Sea follows the fortunes of the Estanyol family, from their peasant roots to a son, Arnau, who flees the land only to realize spectacular wealth and devastating problems. During Arnau�s lifetime Barcelona becomes a city of light and darkness, dominated by the construction of the city�s great pride�the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar - and by its shame, the deadly Inquisition. As a young man, Arnau joins the powerful guild of stone-workers and helps to build the church with his own hands, while his best friend and adopted brother Joan studies to become a priest. When Arnau, who secretly loves a forbidden Jewish woman named Mar, is betrayed and hauled before the Inquisitor, he finds himself faceto-face with his own brother. Will he lose his life just as his beloved Cathedral of the Sea is finally completed?

©2008 Ildefonso Falcones; (P)2008 Penguin

Critic Reviews

"This sweeping historical novel set in fourteenth-century Catalonia recounts the story of Arnau Estanyol, a laborer who unwittingly becomes embroiled in social upheaval in Barcelona. Narrator Paul Michael uses a range of vaguely European-sounding accents to portray the story's nobles and peasants. His smooth pronunciation of Spanish and French names surely renders the audiobook less cumbersome than the written tome. Michael's clear, masculine voice is well suited to the extensive narrative passages describing life in medieval Barcelona: war, plague, the supremacy of the aristocracy, and the Spanish Inquisition. The tale of Arnau's lifelong search for happiness was a bestseller in Spain for more than a year. This translation is a gem, employing elegantly simple language to portray a significant era." (AudioFile)

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  • Overall

Very good historical novel.

The point of the novel is the historical setting as much as the characters, so if you don't like historical detail, there's not a lot of reason to read it, or complain about the detail if you do. If you don't like cheese, don't order a pizza.

This is good historical novel, with a strong setting and enough detail to make the characters and their actions make sense. The story takes place over two generations in 14th century Barcelona, and is about class, wealth, political intrigue, trade, and of course social conditions in a time of great change. While there is plenty of romance, revenge, abuse, family, and all the elements of mainstream novels, the central story is still the historical setting. Women are horribly abused, Jews are persecuted, serfs are treated like dogs, and all is taken for granted because that was the history of the era.

Throughout, though, the writer deliberately demonstrates these horrors as, well, horrible, and that is much of the point of the book--the strife to overcome these issues and live as well as possible. It is well done.

There are some shortcomings. The writer is a bit unsophisticated at working the historical lessons into the scenes, so at times he describes too much without enough action. And the construction of the novel is a little simplistic at times--most mysteries are wrapped up quickly, before new scenes are begun. Doesn't quite earn the label "eposidic," but close. Also, some scenes don't ring true--characters do things that are way out of character at times.

The novel is easily compared to Follet's two medieval novels, rightfully so, but there are differences. Falcones is less melodramatic, less manipulative, and less cheesy (mostly), but he's not as good at the larger setting as Follet, and the story isn't quite as layered. It's also not nearly as long.

Overall, I loved it, but it was a bit weak on development, though the setting made up for it. Follet fans will probably like it.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Very Enjoyable

Almost as good a pillars of the earth. Twice as good as world without end.

As always bad things happen to good people, and to the bad as well.

It cover a lot of layers of society. From the Bastaixos,(a human mule) to serfs and slaves. to the church, warriors, kings and nobles, who usually are not. Some history but not over done, in fact i could have used just a little more.

I liked the story, it held my interest the whole way through. the narrator was great, different voices for different charactors.(my favorite was Sahat/Guillem, deep baritone) he was easy to understand and still used a accent, VERY GOOD.

Give it a try. I think you'll like it.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

epic and vivid

I read as much historical fiction as possible and was drawn to this one because I haven't read much about Spain, social structure or the Inquisition in that part of the world. This is an epic tale, rich in detail with complex characters, loads of feudal-age history and rich descriptions. The narrator was just right - I was never annoyed by the reading. Be prepared for detailed descriptions of harsh cruelty. Not one to listen to with kids about, but highly recommended if you want a fictional version of medieval Spain to come to life.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Worthwhile, Challenging, Interesting -- WOW!

To begin with, the description of the book is not accurate. Mar is not a forbidden Jewish girl! Also, I was bothered beforehand by all the people who stopped listening, were bored, etc. Why on earth! Well, this work should not be compared to Follett who before he got comfortable with cathedrals wrote hard-hitting thrillers. No, this masterpiece more resembles Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo (revenge and coming out on top) or George Eliot's Daniel Deronda (Jews, women). Even Gone With the Wind, the movie aside, discusses aspects of our Civil War at some length. This story presents an interesting assortment of people working out how they fit in their community and with each other. This author is a lawyer! He cares about civil rights! He speaks both Spanish and Catalan. I like that this is a man's book; while I do care if the guy gets the girl, I also enjoy being told about Middle Ages legal problems, insurance for a ship's cargo, etc. And while the title refers to a cathedral, the main character carries stones for the cathedral as a young man and moves on to other pursuits in later life. While he supports his church, he is not the designer of the cathedral! As to language, anyone who has visited Barcelona may have noticed that besides Spanish there's another language which is impossible to pronounce and quite different from Spanish. [Maybe it helps to get locked in Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral during siesta time!] And ordinary Spanish vocabulary was not yet being lisped at that time. So I don't think we can second-guess the narrator. The language being spoken by the characters in this book is as strange as Chaucer or Shakespeare is to English speakers. I have studied ancient Spanish texts and have an inkling of what I don't know. This narrator is superb! On the first listen I noticed a couple of odd wordings that might reflect on the translator. On the second listen, I just sat back and enjoyed. This is history at its most exciting!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Superb narration

The story is a good listen -- not the Pillars of the Earth or Agincourt, but it is still an interesting listen. I found the slices of ordinary life in medieval Spain and the process of the Inquisition particularly worth the listen.

It's the narrator that really shines in this book. I know I've heard Paul Michael in other books but for some reason his talent really sparkles here. His voice is smooth and agile, making the change in character voices seamless. His story telling skill really drew me in -- there was no sing-song or static cadence -- just a smooth golden voice letting the story shine through.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Formula historical adventure

...although the formula works better than most others. There are the same cardboard characters, the same routine abuse of woman, serfs (and in this case slaves), and a main character who encounters again and again injustice but still perseveres.The violence and sex are thankfully not so graphic (or frequent) as in Follett's duo "Pillars" and "World Without End." The novel lacks Follet's great detail about architecture, but has richer setting details over all, giving a feel for how the economy and legal system worked. There is the same casting of what seems to be (psychologically) 21st people and relationships in medieval bodies with a plot as heavily dependent upon coincidence as Follett.

I think the writing is better and definitely less repetitive than Follet's style, but, still, I thought the listen would never end -- WHY do I keep downloading novels like these! I'd be better off re-reading a Dumas or a Dickens. They at least can lead me to suspend my disbelief for the coincidences in their plots.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

On Par With "Pillars......."

I've got an hour to go and I don't care how it finishes. The story is so great and the characters are so well developed. I've listened to dozens of books from Audible and this is certainly in my top 3. I'm typically a mystery & thriller guy, but a good story is a good story; and this narrator, my goodness he is incredible.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Fantastic Story and Narration

I've listened to about 10 Audible audiobooks, mostly historical fiction. This is my first attempt at a review. I felt so strongly about this book that I decided to go for it. You will NOT be disappointed. This is a fantastic story in every way. You will put your credit (or $) to great use.

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Engrossing Read

Very interesting read. The setting is loosely related around "Santa Maria, Barcelona"(**google it:Read wiki and view church pictures).

The majority of the book is somewhat dark (i.e. Bad things happen to good people).

The narration is done very well.

Overall this is a very good historical fiction read, but I would say "Pillars of the Earth" and "World without End" by Ken Follett are must reads that are beyond compare.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • KP
  • 08-18-14

In the mood for BARCELONA!

I'm glad I read it. I finished as I arrived in Barcelona, so that made it really fun since the book has so much to do with that city. Now I HAVE to see the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar! As for the book itself: good on the history of the city, but I have to say that it was a potboiler and extremely overdone. At first I thought it seemed a little like Ken Follett in Pillars of the Earth, but really I think Ken Follett was a better writer. There are just too many heaving bosoms, too many characters who are extremely good or extremely evil, OR too many characters who could also change on a dime from one to the other.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful