Set a couple of hundred years after The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End picks up the story of the town of Kingsbridge. I don't want to say too much about the twists and turns the plot follows, so I'll just say that the book is the story of a generation of townspeople and what life in the mid-14th century might have been like.
Had I read this on its own, or even after the 20 years between the publication of Pillars and World, I would probably have enjoyed it more. As it is, I did honestly enjoy it, but coming only a year after reading Pillars, the stories and characters were too similar for me to feel like rating it higher. Most of the main characters felt like the same people from Pillars with their names changed. I feel like I could seriously make a list of characters from each book and match most of them to their equivalents in the other. I will say that there's no equivalent to Prior Philip in this book, and I missed him.
One thing I did like better in World is that the violence has been toned down a lot. I almost had to put Pillars down because it got so violent, and I don't think of myself as being particularly squeamish about that kind of thing. The brutality is still present in this second book, but Follett chose to set the scene and then fade to black rather than making us read on in horror.
This book focused quite a bit on one character, Caris, who becomes something of a healer. I enjoyed reading about "health care" in the 14th century, weird as that sounds. I just read and shook my head and felt thankful that I live today, and not in a time when smearing an open wound with manure to "draw out the puss" was thought to be an effective treatment. It makes me curious what we do now that will horrify people in a few hundred years. Chemotherapy was one thing that came to mind. It was interesting to talk it over with my husband and see what practices we thought might eventually be viewed as barbaric.
And that's really all I have to say. Pillars might be slightly better than World, but if you read them far enough apart, I think you'll like them both equally.