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on 12 August 2013
Some authors can establish intimacy with a character with well chosen analogy. Marguerite is an intriguing vixen, Robert of Artois a tree trunk of a man, Beatrice D'Hirson a captivating and possibly vicious femme fatale. Knowing them, their individual motivation becomes obvious, colouring in the history they influenced, for there is more history than fiction in here even if the fiction is absorbing. If all medieval history was blessed with as learned a story-teller as Maurice Druon, we would all want to know much more about our past. I have ignored the George Martin controversy expressed in some reviews, but am delighted that his sponsorship facilitated the reprint of a series of books I might never have discovered otherwise. Introducing the Valois era as clearly as it does, this story clarifies the link between Normans of the 11th and 12th centuries and Bourbons of the late 16th, but also starts you off on Edward III's precedents in England. Before long, thanks to the story-telling ground laid by this author, I expect to have a decent command of The Hundred Years War, which will bathe pre-Tudor English history in bright sunlight. Edward III was Isabella's son and his victory at Crecy in 1347 is as pivotal as was his great grandson Henry V's victory at Agincourt in 1415. Read all about Isabella and her times in this fabulous series of books.
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on 20 November 2013
An excellent start to what promises to be a great series. The characters and events are real and historically accurate with great attention to detail that really brings home what life was probably like in this turbulent period of French history; but this is not just a history book, it's a great read. Whilst the Game of Thrones is a fantasy and The Accursed Kings is on the serious side of historic fiction, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference. I can't recommend it enough and you are in for a treat, and five more to come.
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on 8 July 2017
Part of a fascinating series of books telling about a little-known period of history in a highly-accessible way.
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on 22 April 2017
An enjoyable read
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on 26 December 2014
The translation from the original French needs updating but once you get use to the style of the prose, a really good read.
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on 1 April 2017
i definitely will not buy the next book in this series.
the style of writing was extremely boring,
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on 14 July 2017
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on 20 July 2017
Very good read.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 12 October 2014
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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 November 2011
FANTASTIC historical novel based on the final years of the 14th century Philip the Fair of France. One of his main acts was to gain control of the power and wealth of the Knights Templar by having most of them brutally killed. As their Grand Master, Jacques de Molay is being burnt to death, he curses the king and his future generations, thus providing the title for this series of 6 books, The Accursed Kings, of which this is the first.
The other main incident that features in this book is the adultery of 2 of his daughters-in-law (and the connivance of the third). Plus we see the interference of Philip's daughter, Isabella, the unloved wife of England's homosexual Edward II. The stage is set for the downfall of the Capet dynasty who once looked all-powerful...Cant wait to read the rest of the series!
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