June 19, 2015 by Darius
I recently read The Iron King, the first book in French author Maurice Druon’s acclaimed Accursed Kings historical fiction series. The series follows the fall of the house of Capet, the line that gave rise to French kings in the 14th century.
The Iron King’s name refers to Philip the Fair of France, who earned his moniker “iron king” through his relentless consolidation of power in the hands of the crown. Among Philip’s victims is the Order of the Knights Templar. To finance France’s wars, Philip begins a seven-year campaign against the Templars to plunder their vast holdings. Druon’s series picks up with the culmination of that campaign: the burning at the stake of Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Templars. As Molay dies, he levels a curse at Philip and his descendents. The Accursed Kings series chronicles that curse.
Druon’s books have been cited as inspirations for George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. Though Martin’s books are, of course, completely fictional, and Druon’s books do accurately portray historical events, the same thread of power and betrayal runs through both series.
However, perhaps due to suboptimal translation from the French, I found the writing in The Iron King somewhat clunky, which made the book more difficult to enjoy. Although Druon wrote the Accursed Kings books mostly in the 1950s and although they were adapted for television, twice, in France, their English-language translation had long been out of print and was reintroduced only in 2013. It’s a shame that after that long wait it wasn’t better than it is.
That said, fans of medieval history would enjoy The Iron King.