by Maurice Druon; translated by Humphrey Hare
For anyone who may have been seduced by this heavily promoted blurb:
‘This is the original game of thrones’ George R.R. Martin
This is a novel of historical fiction, not fantasy. Personally, I see am a fan of both genres, but some people may have been misled about the book’s content since it’s being connected to Martin, who wrote the Foreward to this new edition.
The Iron King of France, Philip the Fair, has sentenced to death the leaders of the Knights Templar. As he and his followers are burned at the stake, the Grand Master of the order, Jacques Molay, curses Philip and his court “to the thirteenth generation!” While Philip ignores the dying man’s words and continues to rule his people with a firm but just hand, his daughters-in-law commit outrageous acts of adultery right under his nose. It seems all the court, save the king and his sons, knows that the princesses of France are engaging in affairs. When news of this reaches even the ears of the Queen of England, Philip’s daughter Isabella conspires with Robert of Artois to lay a trap to catch and punish the wives of her brothers. A web of intrigue, murder and mayhem is laid out in this first of seven books in the Accursed Kings series.
The Iron King was published in 1955, written by the prolific French author Maurice Druon. The series was never fully translated into English, and has been out of print for many years. While I cannot comment on how well the translation captures the rhythm and style of the original novel, it reads very smoothly and easily, with only a few scattered instances of slightly odd phrasing. Perhaps expecting an American audience to be unfamiliar with the history of medieval France, the translator included a list of historical notes to clarify small details, like the role of a provost in the 14th century French government or the composition of medieval poisons. (At least, I have been lead to believe these are the addition of Humphrey Hare and not original to the text of Druon.)
I found the story quite engaging. The endless plotting and machinations surrounding the throne are equal to the courts of the Tudors, the Borgias or the fictional Starks. It does take a while to get set up, since there are a lot of characters to introduce and background information to slip into conversations. But once I had settled into the story, I was hooked and didn’t want to stop reading. It gets addictive, because the action picks up in the latter half of the book and I was eager to see whether there really was a curse, or if Philip the Fair and his family would find a way to muddle through the scandals of the court intact. Since this is only the first book, a lot of matters are only partially revolved by the end of the book, but I have high hopes for the rest of the series!
4 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
2011: Waiter Rant by The Waiter
2010: The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn
2009: Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum