It’s time for mini-reviews, with a Game of Thrones twist.
Following on my last post, introducing the historical fiction series The Accursed Kings, let’s dive into the individual books, starting with the first four.
I know, I originally said three, but as I reconsider these novels, I realize how closely linked in plot and theme the first four are compared to the later novels.
I’m going to give each one a mini-review, similar to my Reading List recommendations posts. In keeping with the Game of Thrones connection, I’ll call out which GoT fans (the TV series, not A Song of Ice and Fire) fit each novel best.
A Side Note About My Reviews
Recently, one of my favourite TV critics moved to the “other” side when he created his own TV series. One thing he said stayed with me. Given his professional situation, he felt he couldn’t do reviews anymore. As I’ve now started my own novel-writing career, I feel I should take the same approach. So while I’m happy to make recommendations, I’m going to avoid posting reviews of other writers’ work.
If the writer is deceased. I think that’s ok, right?
(mainly because they can’t fight back on social media ?)
The Iron King
A solid kick off, The Iron King introduces the major conflicts that drive this book series. The King of France is cursed by the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, a venerable order of warrior monks he frames for heresy in order to get his hands on their sweet, sweet cash. A progressive and conservative faction duke it out over the many changes the King imposed on France, changes which were the whole reason he needed said cash. Two branches of a powerful family argue and outright fight over an inheritance. An Italian banker tries to stay one step ahead of xenophobic persecution, while trying to pull strings behind the scenes to keep things that way.
All these struggles collide thanks to a scandal, a sexy, sexy scandal. It seems two royal princesses are romping with a pair of groomsmen. Their adultery brings into question the legitimacy of their royal children. As we know from Game of Thrones, this can bring about calamity for a kingdom, even without twincest.
Which GoT fans would like this book the most? People who enjoyed all the shade thrown in those Small Council meetings.
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Strangled Queen
“Every unjust act, even committed for the sake of a just cause, carries its curse with it.” These words go through the mind of one prominent character shortly before his execution. They could serve as a tagline for the most politically-minded book in The Accursed Kings series.
What really made The Strangled Queen stand out for me was how relevant it feels to today. Louis X (oddly enough, known as the “Headstrong”) is a feckless, unintelligent king, easily swayed by flatterers and lacking in actual ability or confidence. He’s a thoroughly mediocre man who, through accident of birth, winds up leading Europe’s most powerful kingdom. He falls under the spell of a powerful, conservative faction hellbent on restoring wealth and privileges that had eroded under Louis’s father, the Iron King. This faction uses populist rhetoric and fearmongering to discredit the opposition. Sound familiar?
I loved all the political maneuvering on display in this novel. What’s really striking is not how clever everyone is. It’s the sense that, no matter how smart a political player might be, they are always in over their head. It makes the characters and their situations that much more relatable. While the intrigue is comparable to Game of Thrones, this novel is more overtly political. It’s centrally concerned with the difficulties of governing and heaps scorn on undeserving nobles, casting its progressive medieval reformer as a tragic figure. The fact that it felt so relevant, and ultimately frustrating, gave this story its impact.
Which GoT fans would like this book the most? People annoyed by Jon Snow continually failing upward.
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐½
The Poisoned Crown
In the first two novels of the series, author Maurice Druon does an admirable job juggling the many plot strands. Little incidents, seemingly unrelated, come into play in a big way amid the larger struggle for power. Unfortunately, that connectedness doesn’t really happen in The Poisoned Crown.
Many scenes felt like diversions from the larger plot. That can be very satisfying in the moment, such as with the interplay between Robert of Artois and his aunt, Mahaut of Burgundy as they wage a mini civil war in their corner of France. Their conflict is echoed by the Tyrion vs Cersei scenes from the early seasons of GoT. I’m quite sure these two were Druon’s favourite characters to write and it really shows. However, the other meandering plot threads that don’t really pop, and take away from my overall impression of the story.
Long story short, the dastardly Mahaut comes out the winner of this novel. It’s clear why the 2005 mini-series had to cast the part with a cinema legend of Jeanne Moreau’s stature. Mahaut deserves nothing less.
Which GoT fans would like this book the most? People who always have time for a Dornish Red.
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐½
The Royal Succession
The Royal Succession is a showcase for probably my favourite character from the series, Philip of Poitiers, later King Philip V. Actually, that may be overstating it. His personality doesn’t really shine all that much. Yet, I do end up cheering for him, even as he engages in some dirty deeds and covers his eyes as others commit even more evil crimes. He really does want to do some good for France, and it’s clear Druon thinks wistfully on his short reign as one of the great “what if” questions in French history.
Watching Philip carry out his machinations were a highlight not only of this novel, but of the series as well. I’m all about the schemers.
The first four novels can be seen as Philip’s arc, setting him up to be king, and possibly pull France from the abyss. But history had other plans.
Which GoT fans would like this book the most? People who thought the show did Littlefinger dirty in the last few seasons (right here!)
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐