The Iron King by Maurice Druon caught my eye due to the George R.R. Martin blurb on the front cover. I love the political machinations and scandal within the plot of Game Of Thrones. Seeing Martin proclaim The Iron King to be the original Game Of Thrones definitely had my attention, as I am interested in reading more books with well-developed characters and interesting politics. While The Iron King might not be fantasy, nor does it have dragons, it was an okay historical fiction book set across medieval France and England featuring the intrigue of royals and several interweaving plot lines.
Druon’s The Iron King opens with a description of how King Philip The Fair has basically destroyed the Knights Templar over the course of seven years because the Templars were the only people who dared to stand up to him while he was amassing wealth and power for France. The story then shifts to Isabella, Queen of England. Isabella is in a loveless marriage, as her husband, King Richard is into men. This does not mean that Isabella is meek, though. Instead, she is scheming with a French noble, Robert of Artois to catch her sisters-in-law in the act of adultery. Interwoven is the story of Jacques de Molay’s execution and the curse he places upon King Philip, the Pope and the rector of the French kingdom, in which Molay says they will all die within a year. In addition, there’s a subplot involving a moneylender or a Lombard named Guccio Baglioni who is sent to England to collect on a debt. Essentially, these different elements weave together and we see King Philip The Fair’s down fall and untimely end.
One of the reasons that I did not love The Iron King is that I felt as though I was held at arm’s length from the characters. I never really found myself caring about the characters and their machinations. To me, I felt as though this was more of a plot driven book rather than character driven. I thought that King Phillip seemed rather one note, always so strong without a hint of regret for what he did to the Templars. It was hard to really care about Isabella because she came off as an ice princess and we never really got to dig deeply into her character. Baglioni gets plenty of scenes, but he came across as very self-serving and awful. Granted, he is only 18 so has a lot of growing up to do in comparison to the other, older characters. I think this may have been my biggest problem, how there wasn’t really a good guy sort of character to latch onto and root for, and in the absence I did not feel as though the other characters were well-developed enough to feel fully real and fully human to me. I guess if I am to make inevitable Martin comparisons, I would say that Martin draws his characters very, very well with strengths and flaws, whereas Druon’s characters just seemed so flat to me.
There are some decent action scenes within this book, which help to keep it interesting and the plot moving. Druon does a decent job building suspense between events and characters. This especially works well as de Molay’s curse is carried out and different characters are introduced for a few pages. These characters hint at playing a larger role later in the series. If not for the plotting and the pacing, I would probably have set this book aside and just not finished it. Yet, the storyline kept me engaged.
Druon’s writing style feels a bit cut and dry. It left something to be desired on my end. Maybe this is a result of the translation, but I doubt it. I guess I just really found The Iron King to be lacking. To me, the whole book reads like one giant set up and exposition for the rest of the series. As this is the opening book to his Accursed Kings series, I suppose that makes sense, but ultimately I was left unsatisfied. Personally, as a reader I don’t feel any sense of investment in this series and likely will not be continuing. Yet, I think that if you are really into historical fiction, the 100 Years War, and the political machinations of nobility, you might really enjoy Druon’s The Iron King.
Disclosure: Received for review via Amazon Vine
Other reviews of The Iron King by Maurice Druon:
Bibliosanctum – “torture and poisonings and death curses, oh my”
Historical Tapestry – “the book remains, for me, one of the best French historical fiction pieces”
All Things Royal – A marvelous book”