The Iron King by Maurice Druon
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I had heard of this series when reading George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, as he mentioned it as one of those series that inspired him to write it.
The story sounded like something I wanted to read, but though this book has been republished a few times in French, trying to find an English translation was quite hard, until now.
Found this while browsing and did not immediately recognise the author but caught the name of George RR Martin as writing the foreword, when I realised what I had found, bought it without hesitation.
This is the description:
The Iron King – Philip the Fair – is as cold and silent, as handsome and unblinking as a statue. He governs his realm with an iron hand, but he cannot rule his own family. His sons are weak and their wives adulterous; while his red-blooded daughter Isabella is unhappily married to an English king who prefers the company of men. A web of scandal, murder and intrigue is weaving itself around the Iron King; but his downfall will come from an unexpected quarter. Bent on the persecution of the rich and powerful Knights Templar, Philip sentences Grand Master Jacques Molay to be burned at the stake, thus drawing down upon himself a curse that will destroy his entire dynasty.
I have read many other reviews about this book, some positive, many negative. It is amazing how many people complain that just because GRRM said that this book inspired him, they were disappointed as they expected this book to be like his work, which it certainly is not, this is not historical fantasy no matter what some people call it.
This book was written roughly fifty years ago, so the language is slightly dated, but this does not distract at all from the quality of the writing.
The story starts with the final downfall of the Templar’s, with the Grand Master being burnt at the stake. The throne needs money and the richness of the Templar’s has made them an obvious target. The curse spoken by Molay just before the flames take hold, is a dramatic piece of narrative, and is thrown against Philip, the Pope and the Kings highest advisor.
This is not the main story of the book, there are various sub plots involving the Lombard’s who are involved in lending money to everyone so know everyone’s secrets and you have the infidelity of the three wives of Philips sons, which Isabella, the only one of the Kings children who seems to have any strength, is determined to uncover.
I find the history of this time interesting, so was quickly hooked on the story, and actually read it in about three sittings. Like the Dorothy Dunnett’s books, you need to concentrate, due to intrigue in the story and the many characters though helpfully there is a list of characters at the beginning of the book so you can give yourself a reminder if needed who someone is. There is some details of the executions used and the various torture methods which can be a bit gruesome but really fit with the period of history
The majority of the story threads are tied up nicely by the end of the book, though obviously there is enough to keep your interest for book two.
I enjoyed this book and will definitely be looking for the next, if you like history and historical fiction, then give this one a go as think you will enjoy.
8 out of 10