Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Review: The Iron King by Maurice Druon


“Accursed! Accursed! You shall be accursed to the thirteenth generation!”

The Iron King – Philip the Fair – is as cold and silent, as handsome and unblinking as a statue. He governs his realm with an iron hand, but he cannot rule his own family: his sons are weak and their wives adulterous; while his red-blooded daughter Isabella is unhappily married to an English king who prefers the company of men.

A web of scandal, murder and intrigue is weaving itself around the Iron King; but his downfall will come from an unexpected quarter. Bent on the persecution of the rich and powerful Knights Templar, Philip sentences Grand Master Jacques Molay to be burned at the stake, thus drawing down upon himself a curse that will destroy his entire dynasty…

HarperCollins UK |  January 2013 (re-issue) | 340 pages (hardcover)

My Review

When I first read novelist George R.R. Martin's statement that Maurice Druon's Accursed Kings series is the "original Game of Thrones" I knew I had to read it.  I wasn't disappointed.

Set in early 14th century France, The Iron King concerns the final years of King Philip the Fair's reign, which was defined by his persecution of the Knights Templar and the scandalous behaviour of his daughters-in-law.  Philip's persecution of the Templars is particularly notable for his execution of Grand Master Jacques Molay who, with his dying words, curses the King and his descendants.  Very soon thereafter, things start to go badly for Philip, including the death of one of his trusted advisors and the coming to light of the adultery committed by his daughters-in-law.  It is not long before Philip starts to question whether or not Molay's curse is coming to fruition, and if his own downfall will be next.

Well-written and fast-paced, The Iron King is full of political intrigue and cunning.  The novel showcases the key political power players at Philip's court, as well as those who fall outside of it such as Philip's daughter Isabella, who is Queen of England, and the Lombard bankers who controlled money lending.  While the narrative unfolds from multiple viewpoints, Droun is still able to successfully convey the motivations and defining characteristics of each of his primary characters.  A lot of historical information is conveyed throughout the novel, but this information never serves to slow the narrative down given that Druon doesn't have his characters explain to one another historical details with which they would already be fully familiar.  Instead, Druon has included an extensive series of endnotes to provide the reader with historical background, an approach I wish more authors of historical fiction would adopt.

The Iron King is overall a fantastic read, and I can't wait to read the remaining books in the Accursed Kings series.  Highly recommended to fans of medieval historical fiction.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: Purchased

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