The Iron King (The Accursed Kings #1)
By: Maurice Druon
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy
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 de Molay to be burned at the stake, thus drawing down upon himself a curse that will destroy his entire dynasty…
I’ve had this book on my want-to-read list ever since I heard how much George R.R. Martin enjoyed this series. It sounded pretty epic, covering a chunk of French dynastic history. It has been out of print for decades but HarperCollins UK decided to re-print them recently, which is awesome. May contain some minor spoilers ahead!
This book is part of the Books on France Reading Challenge 2013 that I am participating in.
The Iron King is a fascinating read about 14th century France. The kingdom is ruled under Philip the Fair, his court littered with an array of colourful characters, all of whom have their own agendas and interests. The reader gains a sense of the structure of administration during this time and how Philip ran his court and his decision-making through his interactions with his council members and the situations that arise throughout the book.
Philip’s family is quite an interesting lot where it is his daughter Isabella who shows promise of being an effective ruler while the his sons…well, they have their own personalities. The storyline concerning Philip’s family and his daughters-in-laws’ adulteries against their respective husbands was interesting in that it reveals a lot of the family dynamic as well as the social practices of the time on how to deal with the subject of adultery amongst the Royal household (which weighed heavily on Philip’s mind). I also found it gripping how de Molay’s curse weaves into Philip’s life and how it affects some of the people around him.
Aside from members of the Royal family and the court, there are storylines interweaving with the politics happening at the top tier, drawing in characters from the middle class and the foreigners, namely the Italian bankers. Their storylines were not as interesting as the drama happening at court but they all tie into the management and future of the kingdom one way or the other.
The period in which these characters lived in was also interesting to read about. The author researched quite extensively on the period; as a bonus, at the end of the novel there’s a list of historical facts and information behind many of the references mentioned throughout the story. Everything from the political landscape in Europe to the gruesome forms of torture are mentioned. It doesn’t touch too much on the lives of the peasants as most of the characters featured are in some way or the other tied to the events at Court but otherwise Druon’s representation of French society during this period was interesting and informative enough.
While I wished there had been a bit more depth at certain parts of the novel–the characterisations of Isabella and Philip were wonderful but were pretty shallow when it came to the daughter-in-laws (surely there was more to them than their fickleness)–I enjoyed reading The Iron King. It was gripping and I enjoyed Druon’s writing; the final line of this novel, for example, was perfect as a send-off. If you are a fan of historical fiction, French history and/or George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, this novel is definitely something worth checking out.