The last three books of the epic medieval historical series, The Accursed Kings, goes to some strange places. It’s impossible to discuss properly without spoilers, so be warned – as much as seven hundred year old events can be spoiled!
Once again, with each review, I’ll also dig into which Game of Thrones fans would enjoy each novel the most.
The She Wolf
The second half of the series begins with a jarring time jump leaving the Machiavellian scheming for the throne of France behind. Phillippe V’s reign is over. The omniscient narrator laments what could have been when this most capable, and ruthless, monarch was cut down by the plague.
Now his younger brother takes over, and he gives old Louis the Headstrong a run for the “weak and ineffectual” king belt. But it’s France;s crown that most concerns this novel, it’s England’s.
A new major character in Baron Roger Mortimer escapes the clutches of Edward II, frequently portrayed as one of England’s worst rulers. Mortimer hightails it to France, where he soon gets entangled with the interminable struggle between Robert of Artois and his aunt, Mahaut of Burgundy. Mortimer also winds up in bed with Edward’s exiled queen, the titular She Wolf, Isabella. Together, Mortimer, Robert and Isabella plot to overthrow Edward.
True to form, Druon recounts the most lurid and sensational version of historical events, including Edward’s grisly demise. While Isabella and Edward have often been tarred by misogyny and homophobia in other depictions, Druon allows them to give fair account for themselves. Isabella is a capable schemer, but she’s no devilish mastermind. Edward is incompetent, with a cruel streak, but that just puts him in line with many nobles of the day.
As with earlier volumes, the dual threads of events in France and England are tied together elegantly, resulting in another highlight of the series.
Which GoT fans would like this book the most? People who couldn’t wait to see Joffrey get his comeuppance.
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐½
The Lily and the Lion
A novel building to the start of the Hundred Years’ War shouldn’t feel like a let down when it ends. Yet that is entirely what happens with The Lily and the Lion. The novels loses its steam in the second half. It also ends with a bizarre epilogue that follows a dangling plot thread the author had abandoned a while back.
The novel’s narrative turns its focus to the continuing petty squabble between Robert and Mahaut. At one point, Robert seems victorious, only to throw it all away because he couldn’t leave well enough alone. In the name of payback, he ends up drawing England into a war with France. None of this actually achieves what he truly wants: to go home as ruler of the County of Artois. He’s left to contemplate his failures as the novel meanders to its conclusion.
There are difficulties inherent in adopting well-known episodes of history into fiction. Stray too far from reality in service of the story and you end up looking ridiculous. Like suggesting that “Braveheart” was actually Edward III’s secret daddy. Druon, while routinely going with the most sensational interpretation of history, hews closely to real events. He ends up weighed down by the anti-climatic nature of real events, to the point where he ends the narrative with this astonishing statement:
At this point the author, compelled by history to kill off his favourite charactrer, with whom he has lived for six years, is moved to a sorrow comparable to that of King Edward of England; the pen, as the old chroniclers say, falls from his hand, and he has no desire to continue…
Overall this was a disappointing way to end the series – but wait, isn’t there one more book, you say? I’ll get to that momentarily…
Which GoT fans would like this book the most? People who thought, actually Season 8 was pretty good!
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
The King Without a Kingdom
Is this even a functional novel? That’s the first thing that popped into my head as I was reading King Without a Kingdom (actually, my first question was What the f—? but you get what I mean)
It’s just some random cardinal narrating the opening events of the Hundred Years’ War, in the driest way possible! That’s it. I kept waiting for some actual narrative to happen, but nope. Nothing.
It’s as if Druon decided he had lots of research notes he hadn’t used and, what the hell, let’s package it as a new entry in my bestselling series. Speaking of Game of Thrones connections, if you want a good example of repackaging research notes into narrative form, take a look at Fire and Blood.
Which GoT fans would like this book the most? I… really can’t imagine who would.
My Rating: ⭐⭐
Druon came back to The Accursed Kings 17 years after The Lily and the Lion, and his final effort feels entirely unnecessary.
However, taking the first six books together, minus the weird epilogue in Book 6, The Accursed Kings still stands as a brilliant historical epic, fully deserving of its influence and recent resurgence.