17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A joy to read!
I am at a loss to understand the acrimony towards this book by other reviewers- am only half way through this but simply galloping through it! Yes it's not Game of Thrones, nor is it high fantasy. I think this would be apparent from even the briefest look at the blurb. Some seem to dislike the 'old fashioned' and 'slow' style of the book- but what it lacks in trivialising...
Published on 12 May 2013 by Gerald T. Walford
3.0 out of 5 stars Terrific story, poor narrative
Philip the Fair is the King of France, the Iron King of the title. His daughter is the Queen of England, married to a King who prefers his (male) favourites to her. His sons are married into the family of a powerful noblewoman. This is the setting for scandal, intrigue and politics. Two of the wives of the Princes of France are unfaithful, the third wife helps and...
Published 13 months ago by Plucked Highbrow
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A joy to read!,
I am at a loss to understand the acrimony towards this book by other reviewers- am only half way through this but simply galloping through it! Yes it's not Game of Thrones, nor is it high fantasy. I think this would be apparent from even the briefest look at the blurb. Some seem to dislike the 'old fashioned' and 'slow' style of the book- but what it lacks in trivialising melodrama it makes up in weight. This is a well informed and masterful telling of events all the more stunning because they were real, they actually happened (give or take, of course)! I have really enjoyed the first half of the book- I feel the author is masterful enough for me to be convinced by his work on the whole, and the measured and careful prose create a deeply conceived recreation. Also. The distance both in time from when the book was written, and in language this of course being a translation, makes this book such a refreshing take from the often stale tropes of modern historical fiction. I am really sticking my neck out here and am prepared for some flack, but I wish George R. R. Martin had picked up a few tips on how to write restrained and controlled prose from this author! Still, it is possible to admire both of these writers for their different strengths without panning either. Suffice to say I think Game of Thrones works better as television, but this is a real joy to read. I look forward to reading them all by Maurice Druon after this!
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Iron King - enjoyable medieval intrigue...,
This review is from: The Iron King (The Accursed Kings, Book 1) (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Iron King of the title is Philip IV of France - handsome and powerful with three sons to secure his line and a daughter Isabella who is married to King Edward II of England, he is a man to whom much of Europe and even the Pope answers.
Bent on the destruction of the Knights Templar whose fabulous wealth he covets, he finally commits, after seven years of persecution, their Grand Master Jacques Molay to be burnt at the stake. As he burns the Grand Master utters a curse upon the king's line to endure for thirteen generations.
Apparently, the series of books of which this is the first was the inspiration for George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones. I've never read GoT but have seen the TV series and have to say that with hindsight Maurice Druon's influence is certainly apparent. However, readers coming to the this particular book expecting a George Martin style fantasy are going to be disappointed (and it is perhaps unjust to compare The Iron King with such) - this is really a historical novel and being written some sixty years ago lacks the 'grit' of more modern writings - but this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Overall I think I'd say that I found the Iron King an interesting read rather than an exciting one but, for all that, I also found it strangely compelling and it certainly kept me turning the pages. Would I go on to read the next book in the series? You know, I just might.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast Paced Historical Fiction,
As George R R Martin points out in a short introduction to this book, this and the others in the series were of inspiration for his A Song of Ice and Fire series (probably best known as Game of Thrones due to the TV series), and it is easy to see why. This, the first book in the series is fast paced and full of action and skulduggery. Set in the 14th Century, Philip IV has just suppressed the Knight Templars, and as the Grand Master is being burnt at the stake he shouts out a curse, that those involved in the affair will have to answer to Heaven. As we are about to witness as we carry on reading, perhaps the Grand Master’s curse is about to come true.
I know a bit about Philip IV’s reign although not a great lot, but things such as the cuckoldry, and the Lombards, and so on were events that really took place. Maurice Druon who wrote this series really brings to life a defining moment in French history as the country started to form and change into what we think of as France today. Unlike Martin’s series, where he can add fantasy elements and so on, Druon obviously had to work within a certain framework, so you have real characters and events included, rather than just pure fiction. Because this is quite fast paced as well this book and the others in the series would be just as inspirational for others who want to follow in Martin’s footsteps, or to write historical fiction.
This is definitely a good read that certainly holds your attention. Druon brings alive the family feuding, politics, finances and machinations of the period, which include princes’ being cuckolded and corruption taking place. There are some gory scenes here as well, such as being hung drawn and quartered, as well as being burnt at the stake. In all this is a really good read but please remember if you are drawn to this just because George R R Martin has quoted this as a source and inspiration for his fantasy series, this is historical fiction, so don’t expect anything outlandish here. If you enjoy the A Song of Ice and Fire series though, and want to see how this book and others in the series were an inspiration, I don’t think you will be disappointed, and if you like a good historical fiction read you should lap this up as well. Indeed if you want to just escape into a good book then this should suit you as well. After all these were the good old days, where royalty and the nobility were just as bad as anything you see on any car-crash TV show these days.
78 of 88 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Fantasy, but very readable,
This review is from: The Iron King (The Accursed Kings, Book 1) (Hardcover)
I have read both the current two-star and the one three-star reviews, and agree with those reviewers that the comments in the jacket likening it to George Martin's "Game of Thrones" are highly misleading. Even worse is Martin's Foreword, where he claims to see no essential difference between his type of fantasy adventure and Druon's careful historical narrative. Martin claims Druon inspired him, but (as one of the reviewers says) "The Iron King" is nothing like Martin's epic fantasy adventure. I differ from her in thinking it is none the worse for that, especially if dragons and sorcery is not what you want.
There is a saying that you can't judge book its cover, and however much the publishers have done some readers a disservice in their misrepresentation of what type of work "The Iron King" is, I think these reviews do other potential readers a disservice in linking negative comments to their disappointment. Druon did not write the jacket blurb, so he should not be criticised for it, only for what he wrote.
Unlike your other reviewers, I first came to "The Accursed Kings" series in the mid-1970s when the BBC televised a French TV version, and was able to get hold of the first six books in English in the late-1970s. They were re-issued in paperback in the 1980s but have long been out of print in English. Re-reading them after 30 or so years, I still find them interesting and very readable, but not "exciting" if that means full of improbable or contrived action. I can see where reviewer "katywheatley" is coming from in some of her comments, however, this is a carefully researched, reflective and slow-burning work, where the historical characters are constrained by actual events and the fictional ones by the limits of reasonable probability. To repeat: it is not fantasy. If I had to compare it to a contemporary British work I would say "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel. Those who gave "Wolf Hall" critical reviews complained it was a difficult read, and so can "The Iron King" be, but both can be worthwhile. The vast majority of reviews of Hilary Mantel's novel gave favourable reviews, and I think Druon deserves more credit than he has been given.
I was rather mystified by the review from "P J Rankine". Unlike "katywheatley", he found the book easy to read, but like a school history book. I don't share this view, and wonder if he knew that Druon was a member of the Académie Française, whose member are not generally known for being puerile. I do share some of his concern about the translation, which may be too literal a translation, preserving the French word-order and idioms. The review from "mark shackelford" was more reasoned and I agree that, as "The Iron King" was written over 55 years ago, its language isn't very modern (although it is not glaringly old-fashioned).
My apologies to your other reviewers for criticising what they say, but they are not reviewing "The Iron King" as it is, but rather complaining that it is not something written by George Martin. Readers should judge it on its merits.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not fantasy, but gripping and entertaining historical fiction,
This review is from: The Iron King (The Accursed Kings, Book 1) (Hardcover)
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"This is the original Game of Thrones" it says on the front cover, but anyone picking this book up hoping for an epic fantasy novel is going to be disappointed. The French novelist Maurice Druon may have been George R.R. Martin's inspiration (I haven't read Martin's books so wouldn't know how strong the influence actually is), but this is definitely not fantasy - it's an historical fiction novel and an excellent one too. While I think it's good that Martin's recommendation is encouraging people to read The Iron King, I do think it was maybe a mistake for the publisher to market the book in this way, as looking through the various reviews on Amazon it seems a lot of people have not got the novel they were expecting and as a consequence The Iron King has ended up with a lower rating than it deserves.
Anyway, now that we've established what type of book this is, let me tell you what it's about! Originally published in the 1950s, this is the first in the seven-volume "Accursed Kings" series and tells the story of a fascinating period of French history. The Iron King of the title is Philip IV of France, who was also known as Philip the Fair. For seven years Philip has been persecuting the Knights Templar who he wishes to destroy because of their power and riches, and he finally succeeds in having their Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, burned at the stake. But before the Grand Master goes to his death, he puts a curse on the King and his descendants - "accursed to the thirteenth generation!"
Things soon start to go badly for Philip and his family when it emerges that his sons' wives are cheating on them with two young courtiers. Philip's daughter Isabella, who is in a loveless marriage to King Edward II of England, sees an opportunity to bring their adultery to light, with the assistance of her ambitious and vengeful cousin, Robert of Artois, who is forming a plot of his own to reclaim his lands from his hated Aunt Mahaut. It seems that the Grand Master's curse has been successful...
As this is a novel first published in 1955 and translated from French, it does have a very different feel in comparison to most of the historical fiction novels that are being written today and this was something I really liked about the book. Unfortunately I don't have the language skills to be able to read it in its original French, but as far as I could tell, the translator (Humphrey Hare) has done a good job and The Iron King was one of the most entertaining historical fiction novels I've read for a while. There were so many interesting things to learn about - the origins of the famous 'Tour de Nesle affair'; the demise of the Knights Templar; the community of Lombard bankers in Paris - and with a plot involving murder, torture, poisonings, court intrigue, and family feuds, there was always something happening.
Don't worry if you know nothing about this period of French history - I had absolutely no previous knowledge of Philip the Fair and his family before reading this book but that was not a problem at all because this edition of the book makes the story easy to understand and follow. Everything you need to know regarding the historical background, the politics or the causes of feuds and disputes is clearly explained in the notes at the back of the book and the character list at the front helped me remember who everyone was and how they were related to each other. I am now looking forward to the second Accursed Kings book, The Strangled Queen. I hope the publisher will continue to reissue the rest of the series!
4.0 out of 5 stars Closest thing to GOT That I have found.,
If you are desperately awaiting G.R.R.M's Winds of Winter this may just be enough to keep you occupied for a while. It took a while to get into it (that could just because I attempted reading a very uncomplicated Nicholas Sparks book) and this was more heavy with a lot more layers. However, after I hit the second chapter I just had to keep reading to find out what happened.
The author has very kindly put an appendix at the back where he explains particular historical references in the book. He also provides a bit of a narration as well;bringing you out of the story and hinting at specific parts that the bit you just read has major consequences further down the line, which I found gave me added curiosity to keep me turning pages. The different characters all seemed to start off on their own path with no link, but by the middle of book you're beginning to see just a glimpse of how these are characters are going to collide and create some pretty big historical game changes. I will have to read on to see if I'm right. The author used a lot of historical fact. I like to check with the history books that what the author wrote is fact and not speculation and so far I am happy to find that he used as much fact as was available and created the rest to fill in the gaps. If my history teachers made history class half as interesting as this guy I think I might have paid a bit more attention. I very much hope that the standard of the second book is the same as the first. I will let you know.
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘He may well be the most handsome man in the world, but he knows only how to look at people in silence.’,
The Iron King of the title is Philip IV (‘ the Fair’), King of France from October 1285 to November 1314. During his reign, France was progressively transformed from a feudal to a centralised state. Philip relied less on his barons than on his civil service, including Guillaume de Nogaret and Enguerrand de Marigny, and looked to remove those who might contest him in anyway. As part of this strategy, he sought to control the French clergy, causing him conflict with Pope Boniface VIII.
‘He wanted to be loved and feared at the same time. And it was asking too much.’
After expelling the Jews from France in 1306, he annihilated the order of the Knights Templar in 1307. Philip was in debt to both groups, and his actions enabled him to take ownership of their property. The Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake in March 1314, where he is said to have cursed those responsible - the Pope (Clement V), Guillame de Nogaret and King Philip:
‘Accursed! Accursed! You shall be accursed to the thirteenth generation of your line.’
At the time of this curse, Philip was 45, in good health, with three married sons (Louis, Philip and Charles), and his daughter Isabella was married to Edward II of England. By the end of the year, with his family in disarray because of claims that his three daughters-in law were adulterous, Philip was dead. As were Clement V and Guillame de Nogaret.
Yes, it’s not surprising that G.R.R. Martin states that ‘This is the original Game of Thrones’. ‘The Iron King’ is the first of a series of seven books by Maurice Druon following the French Capetian dynasty in the 14th century. I first read this novel fifteen years ago, but found it difficult to locate copies of the subsequent novels in English translation. The series is called The Accursed Books, and the seventh book in the series is about to be published in English for the first time, in January 2015. This is great historical fiction and I’ve added ‘The Strangled Queen’ (the second book in the series) to my reading list.
5.0 out of 5 stars Setting the tone,
The Iron King is the first of a series of six volumes that make up the original “Accursed Kings” and which were published in French by Maurice Druon between 1955 and 1960. A seventh volume, but a quite different one in its construction, was added in 1970.
At the outset, I should perhaps acknowledge how biased I am. I read this series in French more than thirty years ago – I am not sure it had even been translated in English at the time. I “loved it”, to use Amazon’s terminology for a five star rating, read it again a couple of times in French, and I have read it yet again for a fourth time in English. So I guess you could say I am “a fan”, not exactly objective and therefore unlikely to be very critical and you would probably score a point on each count.
Having mentioned all this which you can call disclaimers if you will, I would like to explain not only this book’s contents but also why I found it so special at the tile, and still find it so over thirty years later.
The first reason is that this book sets the tone for the whole series. This volume is centred on Philippe IV the Fair’s reign (Philippe IV le Bel) who was King of France between 1285 and 1314. His long reign is often little-known, including in France, with the exception of the destruction of the Templars. He was a hard King who did much to assert royal authority at the expense of just about everybody else: the great feudal lords, but also the King of England, Flanders, the Templars. Even the pope was manhandled rather roughly (and quite literally) by the King’s men, with the seat of the papacy being then transferred to Avignon, under French control, and the King having a series of French popes elected.
One of the numerous merits of this book is to show to what extent this came at a heavy price, with the King’s ambitions leading to chronically empty royal coffers that had to be filled by any means, fair or (mostly) foul as expenditures almost constantly outstripped revenues. These included heavy taxes, but also various exactions and confiscations suffered by Jews and Lombards, but also by the Templars. The book also shows rather well how the monarchy sought to address these issues as the traditional feudal system became increasingly inadequate in providing the King with the increased revenues that the State needed. To a large extent, this evolution was not specific to the Kingdom of France. Kings of England were confronted to similar issues at the time and Edward the First, for instance, who was the contemporary of Philippe IV the Fair, who was also a strong King, was also struggling to increase royal income to make it match his growing expenses and ambitions.
A related merit of this book is to show to what extent these ambitious policies heavily depended upon the existence of a strong and capable King, who, in the case of Philip the Fair, was more feared than loved, partly because of his appearance. When this was no longer the case, the Kingdom of France struggled to cope with one crisis after another. This is what is also shown in each of the next five volumes of the series.
This volume also shows to what extent the rot had already set in, and had been to some extent always present. The fictional example of the provost of Neauphle taking advantage of his tax-gathering role to make his fortune and the (real) example of the fortune made by the Marigny brothers in the service of the King provide striking examples of some of the excesses of the time. The tensions and infighting at Court are also very well shown, particularly those opposing the King’s brother (Charles of Valois), and the feudal magnates more generally, to the high ranking civil servants of the Crown who owed everything to the King. This opposition between the old order and the new and emerging order is well captured in this book.
There are additional qualities. One of these is the care taken in characterising both the main and the secondary characters of the plot. Another very much intertwined is the attention to detail and the careful use of historical sources. This is a work of fiction and a historical novel. However, it is so carefully crafted that it is often hard to disentangle the fiction from the historical facts on which they had been based. Even characters that appear fictitious, such as Guccio Baglioni or Beatrice d’Hirson, have a historical basis and very existed, although some of their deeds may have been invented. The two central characters – Robert d’Artois and his aunt Mahaut – whose family feud form the basis and the background of the plot for the whole series – were also very real characters, and so was their two-decade lasting feud to control the very rich and very strategic County of Artois in Northern France.
To make up this novel, and the subsequent ones, Maurice Druon has immersed himself in the period, the first half of the fourteenth century and made extensive use of historical documents of the time. While this is certainly a work of fiction, this is mostly because it contains a number of interpretations that may, or may not, be true but which were nevertheless believed to be credible at a time when people, up to and including Kings themselves, were both ruthless and very superstitious. The curse of the Templars and the subsequent deaths within the same year of the pope, chief justice and King of France who had destroyed and condemned them, were believed at the time (at least by some) to be related and are a case in point.
It is with these very dramatic but genuine events that the Iron King is concerned, and none of them is made up. Finally, and contrary to another review, I found that the English translator had done a rather good job. There may be a few glitches here and there but the translation is very much the mirror image of the original. It also manages to reflect the same tense atmosphere and the various impressions of decay, at times, and of looming crises at others. Finally, this book (and the next ones), allow the reader to learn about a fascinating period of French history which makes the entirely fictitious events of Games of Throne look almost tame, at times. Five stars.
4.0 out of 5 stars Great start to a great series.,
Book #1 in "The Accursed Kings" Series.
First in the Frenchman Maurice Druon's "The Accursed Kings" ("Les Rois Maudits") series, this wonderful historical fiction novel tells of the beginning of the end of the French royal house Capet in the beginning of the 14th century.
The Iron King is Philip IV the Fair, and he does not lead an easy life recently - the trial of the Knights Templar has been going on for 7 years, his daughters-in-law are being naughty and his peasants are hungry and his noblemen are busy plotting.
In London, the King's daughter Isabella of England, wife to Edward II, receives at her court of Westminster Robert of Artois, and together they hatch a plan to trap King Philip's daughters-in-law, the adulteresses, so that Robert can have his lands back.
In Paris, while 4 most eminent and old Knights Templar burn merrily on the stake and one of them lays a terrible curse on the King and his House, the princesses are entertaining their lovers, unaware of the plot to catch them in flagrante.
The book also tells the story of a young banker Guccio and his quest for love and adventure.
A long time fan of well-written historical fiction and a GIANT fan of Alexandre Dumas, I loved this book very much.
It's written in that all too familiar Dumas style, full of action, clever plots and intrigues and ofcourse, humour (I was giggling at every mention of Artois' giant size and how it effects his environment).
I look forward to reading more of the series, next book being "The Strangled Queen", about the faith of one of the adulteresses, Marguerite.
4.0 out of 5 stars The Iron King, Maurice Druon- Book Review,
After reading on George R. R. Martin's blog that this series of books was the inspiration behind the A Song of Ice and Fire series, I eagerly picked up this book from my local bookstore. As Martin said, the characters in this tale were as clever and as cunning as any in the Game of Thrones, however, the fact that all of them were real people made this book extremely appealing to me because you all know how much I love historical fiction. Alongside this, the fact that the novel was written by a French author about French history also had a great appeal to me because most of the historical fiction I've read has always been written by Englishmen and therefore, I think always making the stories a little one sided!
The book takes place in the early 14th century and is based around the court of Philip the Fair, or as some call him the `Iron King'. King Philip and his advisors have just managed to finally murder the last of the innocent Templar Knights that had been living in France since the last Crusade. In an attempt to seize their money and power, Philip and his advisors had created false accusations of heresy, sodomy and many other vile acts to create a case against the once respected Templars. However, just before the Grand Master of the Knights, Jacques De Molay is finally burned, he puts a curse on Philip's family (the Capets) which curses their line to the 13th generation.
Meanwhile in England, the new Queen Isabella (Philip's daughter) is plotting against her three sister-in-laws. There are rumours circulating around Paris and even in London that her three sister-in-laws; Marguerite, Jeanne and Blanche have lovers other than their husbands. If proved to be true, this outrage could bring great shame to the House of Capet. Isabella uses her quick mind to try and find out if the rumours are true and punish her sister-in-laws for the shame they are bringing to France.
The final story in the novel is that of Guccio Baglioni who is the nephew of a wealthy Italian banker called Spinello Tolomei. Guccio is tasked with sending a message to Queen Isabella to help her find evidence against her sister-in-laws. On his way back from England, Guccio is also given the chore of retrieving a debt from a noble family that has fallen on hard times. However, when he gets to the family's house, he falls in love with their daughter and gives them a further year to pay off their debts. This act of kindness helps Guccio and his uncle later on in the novel after it is discovered that King Philip is moving to expel all of the Italian bankers from France. Tolomei tasks his nephew with finding a safe place to hide a document that could be used to blackmail one of the King's advisors into preventing the expulsion. Guccio decides the best place to hide the item is at his new love's run down home.
As I said before I was excited to read this book because of the amount of social intrigue George R. R. Martin said there was in it. If I'm been honest, this aspect of the novel was a little disappointing for me because there was no point in the book where I was on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next, like I always am when I'm reading Martin's novels. However, as a historical fiction novel I thought it was brilliant and as Martin said, the characters in the book are great because they are so evil, naïve and cunning like many of the characters in the Game of Thrones, however, these characters are all real, making the events in the book seem even more cold and hard-heated then they already are! Moreover, the events of this time were interesting to read because it was the prelude to the Hundred Years War, which I'm fascinated with and it was interesting to see these events from a French perspective.
All in all, this was a good historical fiction novel but I think it was a little misleading with some of the marketing on the book. I am definitely going to continue the series and I can't wait to see what happens in the next novel! I would suggest this book to anyone who is a historical fiction fan and enjoys books such as Bernard Cornwell's Thomas Hookton novels. I would also suggest it to fans of George R. R. Martin and I'd be really interested to hear what you thought of the book, so please let me know if you have read it!
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The Iron King (The Accursed Kings, Book 1) by Maurice Druon (Hardcover - 3 Jan. 2013)
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