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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars

on 16 June 2015
This picks up immediately after The Iron King: Philip The Fair is dead and his throne is inherited by his weak son, Louis X. In this installment of Druon's 7-book series we witness the machinations of Philip's old guard, especially the Machiavellian struggle between his brother Charles de Valois and his minister Enguerrand de Marigny; we find out the fate of Louis' wife Marguerite, and follow the intrigues around the nomination of the new pope, preferably one sympathetic to Louis.

This was written in the 1950s and really underlines the extent to which the historical fiction genre has moved from something sober, well-researched and serious to predominantly girly romance, all pounding hearts, jewelled gowns and witchy women from the Philippa Gregory/Alison Weir school of fiction. It's also worth pointing out that despite the blurb this is nothing like Game Of Thrones and traces the dynastic struggles of the Capet monarchy of France in the fourteenth century.

Druon is primarily a straight-faced writer with only a few moments of dry sarcasm, and reminds me a little of Dumas but without the swashbuckling, fun and overt drama. The intricate unravelling of French politics, though, especially in the later Musketeers books or La Reine Margot must have served as a model for this series.

Recommended if you like your historical fiction dense and realistic.
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This is the second book in The Accursed Kings series of French historical novels by Maurice Druon set in the early 14th century, cited by George R R Martin as one of the inspirations for Game of Thrones. I read the first in Druon's series immediately after reading the first Game of Thrones book two years ago, and at the time I thought I would be reading the second of Druon's before the second of Martin's, but having read book 4 of Martin's before this, it hasn't quite turned out that way. This novel opens with the death of the Iron King, Philip IV, and the accession of his son Louis X le Hutin in late 1314, a much weaker King, whose wife Marguerite of Burgundy, the titular queen, was imprisoned in the first book for committing adultery (as was the wife of Louis's younger brother). The plot turns around the scheming of factions of nobles against Enguerrand de Marigny, Philip IV's chief Minister, and plans for Louis to obtain an end to his marriage and find a new wife to give him an heir (given the title of the novel, no prizes for guessing how that marriage ending is ultimately obtained). This is the kind of colourful history that I sometimes think makes fantasy novels almost irrelevant (great though series like Game of Thrones are); when historical reality reads as so unlikely in some respects, why have fantasy novels that try to emulate aspects of that reality? Great stuff, and my only minor criticism is that the translation from the French is rather stilted in places.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 2 November 2014
This is the second volume of the Accursed Kings series which was initially published in French between 1955 and 1960. The previous volume dealt with the last year of the reign of Philip IV, known as the Fair (Philippe le Bel in French), King of France between 1285 and 1314. This one follows his death with more murders and intrigues, and with the reversal of most of his reforms as his over-ambitious but vain brother Charles de Valois asserts his influence on Louis X "Le Hutin", his weak, sick and cowardly nephew.

A number of reviewers have focused on the intrigues that culminated in the murder of Louis' first wife Marguerite of Burgundy, who was found strangled in her prison of Château-Gaillard. This, however, is only one of the four part complex intrigue and power fight that erupted after the death of Philip the Fair, the Iron King, once this strong character was no longer there to hold things together.
Another major part of the intrigue if the fight between Charles de Valois and the powerful Enguerrand de Marigny who had been Philip's main minister and had governed France for sixteen years for his king. The third component, which runs through the whole series, is the implacable hate and rivalry between Mahaut, countess of Artois and peer of the Kingdom and her nephew Robert III of Artois, which lasted for over twenty years. Both were cousins to the King, being descendants of one of Louis IX's (Saint Louis) younger brothers. Both were fighting, by fair means or (very!) foul to secure the very rich county of Artois that Mahaut had been granted by Philip the Fair and that Robert was attempting to recover.

A fourth component is the international context, and in particular the international influence of France, then the most powerful kingdom in Europe, largely thanks to King Philip, very ably seconded by Marigny. The main element here was the King's ability to secure a French pope who would owe his election to the French King, would reside in Avignon and would therefore be under French influence and do what the King wanted him to do.

As very well shown by the late Maurice Druon in what is a rather superb historical novel, the four components are entangled and closely related.

The weak and sickly Louis X needed to remarry and have an heir, preferably a son, whose legitimacy would be unquestionable since his paternity of his daughter by his adulterous and imprisoned wife could be (and was) doubted, including by himself. For this to happen, he needed a complying pope who would annul his marriage on the grounds that it had not been consummated, implying that Marguerite's daughter was illegitimate and bearing in mind that infidelity was not a cause for annulation. The book shows rather excellently how difficult it was to get such a pope elected as Valois and Marigny opposed each other at every turn, with the later delaying the election that he alone was able to secure.

The second component was this bitter rivalry between Charles of Valois, the first among the nobles and the head of the feudal lords' faction, and Enguerrand de Marigny and the prototypes of what would become "civil servants" drawn from the middle class. Marigny was not originally noble and, as shown in the book, he arose through his own merits and the protection and favour of Philip the Fair who had used his competences to curb the powers of the feudal lords. As also shown, however, and after having exercised power for so long, he tended to believe that the good of the realm was paramount and was what he (and his dead master King Philip) decided it to be. He survived a first accusation of embezzlement by Valois but fell and was executed when it was proved that he had deliberately blocked the election of a pope and made it impossible to secure the annulation of the King's marriage in time to remarry with Clemence of Hungary, Charles of Valois' niece. This only left one option to free the King from his previous engagement in time to remarry...

This second volume very much displays the same superb qualities as the first one. The historical events are reconstituted and told with skill and a minute attention to details. Almost all of the characters are historical and their personalities are at the very least plausible and believable. One difference from the previous volume, however, is the presence of a narrator (the author) and a few allusions to modern times and to what Maurice Druon depicts as the destruction of the Capetian dynasty through a succession of over-ambitious, mediocre and/or vain and arrogant Kings from Louis X le Hutin right up to John II "the Good" (which meant "the brave" at the time), with the sole exception of Philip V, the second son of the Iron King.

This book is easily worth five stars, even if a couple of little typos seem to have crept into this generally well translated English version.
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VINE VOICEon 14 April 2013
I bought this after devouring the Iron King a day before release and finished it on the same day. It picks up following the death of Philip IV and explores the relationships between three key characters - the new king, Louis X, Marigny and Charles de Valois - and a large cast of other players shaping the conflict. It's in this novel that Martin's comment in the Forward to the books that 'The Accursed Kings is the real Game of Thrones' really becomes apparent. Duron is master at quickly creating excellent, deep characters you root for, even if you know what might happen to some of them, having studied the period.

The book flows incredibly well and Druon comes into his own interjecting into the narrative his own observations , recognising that the reader may be familiar with the events and taking a moment to dwell on a shared sigh at a tragic period of national history. The English nobles take a back seat in this book and the focus is entirely on events in France amid the Marigny-Valois power struggle. You will pick your own side in this, albeit with the support or condemnation of a tutting Druon.

If you've read The Iron King and liked it, buy this immediately. If you haven't yet read The Iron King, go buy it and read it. If you didn't at all like The Iron King, then you're probably a little mad but you might still want to give this a chance. This is an essential addition to any historical fiction collection.
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on 11 July 2014
This is the second book in Maurice Druon's historical series, "The Accursed Kings". It starts just after the death of Philippe IV, the main character of first book, "The Iron King", and covers the first six months of his successor, Louis X, who ruled for barely eighteen months. After a fast-moving first book filled with dramatic incidents, the second book, "The Strangled Queen" has a slower pace and is more concerned with manoeuvrings for power and influence in the French Kingdom and Papacy. It consists of three parts, each with a leading character, although several minor themes run through the whole book.

The first part concerns Marguerite of Burgundy, the wife of Louis who should have the position of queen but is suffering strict and comfortless imprisonment because of her earlier adultery. In the first book, she was seen as a beautiful and sensuous who, with her sister, engaged in affairs with two brothers who were executed for their crime. After a year in prison, Marguerite has lost much of her beauty but has become cunning and selfish. Once she learns of Philippe's death, she wants freedom but not at any price and she stands in the way of Louis remarrying by her obstinacy in giving him grounds for annulment. Louis is obsessed with the idea of marriage to a beautiful Neapolitan princess Clémence, unlike Marguerite in looks and in temperament.

In the second part, Louis who is very weak in comparison to his dominating father and emotionally unstable, shows himself unable to be the king his father was and falls under the control of his uncle Charles of Valois. Charles institutes a noble-led reaction to the centralising tendencies of his dead brother Philippe and seeks the marginalisation of Philippe's low-born ministers. His incompetence leads to the emptying of the Treasury in a matter of months. The only sensible members of the Royal family are Louis' brother, another Philippe, and their uncle Louis of Evreux, but they are overruled. Much of this part deals with the negotiations for princess Clémence to marry Louis and to travel to France. This requires the annulment of Louis' first marriage, and the French court is frustrated in its attempts to elect a Pope who could do this.

In the third part, the crisis in the kingdom worsens and there is a major famine, the result of maladministration as much as the poor harvest. This is blamed on Philippe IV's principal minister, Marigny who Charles of Valois hates. Marigny, the one person who could deal with the crisis, is executed after a rigged trial. Although Marguerite is at last willing to give Louis the legal grounds for an annulment, it is too late and she is strangled in her prison.

Possibly because the novel proceeds more through dialogue than action, its dialogue becomes more important and can seem a little lifeless and too full of old-fashioned words, possibly related to the translation. This said, if you are going to continue with the Accursed Kings series, it is necessary to read this second book in sequence, as the quality of later ones does improve.

As for the first book, "The Strangled Queen" has misleading comments in the jacket likening it to George Martin's "Game of Thrones" and a foreword by Martin claiming to see no real difference between his fantasy adventure and Druon's historical narrative. Don't be influenced or put off by these comments, but read this book for its own merits
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on 30 August 2014
The Iron King is dead but his successor, Louis X, is a weak and insecure man. Thus the centre cannot hold as powerful men conspire to gain, or maintain, power. The chief pawn in this game is the Royal Succession - the king must have a new wife who can breed a dynasty... but there's a problem. The king has a wife, Margaret, imprisoned for adultery (a source of burning shame for the cuckold Louis) and getting rid of her is not going to be easy.
"The Strangled Queen" (now THERE'S a spoiler for you!) is not centred on Margaret, as one might be led to believe, but rather on the (at times) desperate struggle for power between Louis' uncle, Charles of Valois, and Enguerrand de Marigny, the dead king's right hand. The story is intriguing as each tries to gain the upper hand and others play their not-unimportant part in the struggle. Cardinals, Popes and bankers all have their role... and hanging over all is the curse of the Templars.
Once again, Druon has written a book that glues itself to your hand as you gorge on the feast of intrigue, deception and cold-blooded, political murder that plays itself out before you. The Middle Ages come to life like a multi-coloured tapestry playing out before you like some television drama. Wonderful stuff!
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on 10 November 2017
This book tells of the inevitable fate of one of the adulterous princesses. Along the way formerly great men fall from power and new ones rise. However the genius of the writer is that we continue to follow the careers of lesser folk of whom we have grown fond. The mix is intriguing and the writing is plain and sound, the complicated history never boring. I look forward to the rest of the series.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 December 2011
This, the second of Druon's 'Accursed Kings' series, opens in 1314 with the death of Philip the Fair, and succession of his son Louis the Stubborn .
The adulterous wives of Louis and his brother, still imprisoned for their crimes, hope that now they may be freed...
Enguerrand de Marigny, first minister of Louis' father, now realises that he does not enjoy the favour of the new king...
Plus again we meet handsome young Lombard banker, Guccio Baglioni, whose firm helps bankroll the Exchequer. And of course the larger than life Robert of Artois.
Really enjoyable read tho perhaps not QUITE as gripping as the first in series (the Iron King)
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on 2 April 2018
Really enjoyed this book. Will now be getting the rest of this historical series. Well worth getting and reading. Really good.
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on 28 June 2013
I've been looking for Maurice Druon's books for quite a while now and was delighted that at last they are being put onto Kindle. The whole series of this French dynasty (which, apparently, encouraged George Martin to write his 'Game of Thrones' books) is a very interesting part of history, is well written and thoroughly enjoyable. Book three, I believe, is coming onto Kindle in September, hope book 4 will follow shortly after!
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