Just re-read The Pillars of the Earth
and World Without End
back-to-back. Basically, they're the same book, separated in time by about 200 years. For thwarted romance, TPotE has Jack Builder and Lady Aliena, WWE has Merthin Bridger and Prioress Caris. For unrepentant, evil, and powerful, TPotE has William Hamleigh, WWE has Ralph; see also Waleran Bigod (and to a lesser degree Remigius) in TPotE and Prior Godwyn (and later Philemon) in WWE. One unusually bright and creative man in love with a strong-willed and unorthodox woman, one clueless but malevolent noble, various scheming religious types, at least one obstructionist town leader, and a few peasants to be disenfranchised whenever possible. I really liked both books the first time I read them, but the cookie-cutter qualities and shallow characterization were terribly obvious this time around, esp. when read in such close proximity.