I should point out that this review is based on an abridged audiobook-version: 10 hours instead of 40 (yes, that means somebody apparently thought 3/4 were not really plot-relevent). I have never been so happy about an audiobook being abridged...I would not have been able to suffer through this much longer.
Beware: minor spoilers will follow...but bear in mind that the plot is basically 'a cathedral gets built and people have sex' so I'm not sure if I can spoil that much.
The characters were incredibly dull, and not even one-dimensional, more like zero point one-dimensional. The good guys were all incredibly intelligent, could read (this is the 12th century...incredibly high literacy-rate), never did anything even slightly morally questionable, had (with the exception of Philip) mostly modern sensibilities and views on things and (if they were women) were of course beautiful.
The bad guys were all stupid, couldn't read and the only evil woman was of course ugly. None of the villains had only a spark of good in him, they were all brutal psychopaths. Especially William...oh God. I simply could not take him seriously because every single time he appeared Follet felt the need to explain how incredibly evil he was. He enjoyed killing, torture and only ever thought about how much he hated the heroes and how much he wanted to harm them. He was also a rapist...and that scene was very detailed and made me really uncomfortable. Not because it was a rape-scene, which should after all be uncomfortable reading, but because I felt it wasn't written to show what a horrible thing rape is and how terrible it is for the victim but only to show what a horrible person William is - you know in case the fact that he almost got a hard-on when watching somebody get killed wasn't enough of a clue.
Neither William nor any of the other villains had just a tiny redeeming quality or ever regretted just for a few moments what he had done, just like the heroes could do no wrong (weren't even tempted to do something wrong). Most kid's shows/books have more moral ambiguity.
The plot...no I wasn't joking. This is a book about the building of a cathedral...and it seems like Follet did a lot of research on architecture and wanted to show ALL OF IT. I don't mind a bit background-information on the topic of the book but this were just regular massive info-dumps on architecture I did not care about at all.
It was similar with the information about the Anarchy. The fact that the book is set in that period was my main reason for picking it up. I'm interested in that period since I've read Ellis Peters' Cadfael-novels. That also means I couldn't help comparing both with each other and PotE lost there, too.
To be fair to Follet: it is important for the plot that the book is set in exactly this period. Most of the problems that delay the cathedral-building wouldn't have been if there hadn't been a two decades long war about who is the rightful heir to the English throne, however how it was inserted in the plot felt incredibly clumsy. For ages they just happily build their cathedral (and have sex) and then it's suddenly 'Oh by the way Maud has the upper hand in the quarrell now and that's because this and this has happened since we last talked about this and this causes problems because of these reasons'. Then they all solve the problem and it continues again till 'Oh now it's Stephen's turn again and that's bad because...' In the Cadfael-novels this was all included in a much more elegant way, bits and pieces here and there, not massive infodumps in regular intervalls.
I really should say something good about the book, right? well the audiobook was read by Richard E. Grant. He's got a very nice voice. (Still, I won't suffer through the sequel which I have stupidly already bought...that'll teach me for the future)