Thanks to George R. R. Martin, I'm not the only reader who recently discovered the excellent The Accursed Kings by French author Maurice Druon. Having enjoyed The Iron King, I couldn't wait to read the second installment. And with volumes three and four on their way, this is not the last time you'll read about this series on the Hotlist! The Strangled Queen begins right where The Iron King ended and it's nearly as good as its predecessor.
Here's the blurb:
The King is dead. Long live the King. Philip IV is dead and his great kingdom is in disarray. It seems the fatal curse of the Templars is plaguing the royal house of France. His son has been enthroned as Louis X; but with his disgraced wife Marguerite imprisoned in the Chateau Gaillard for her adultery, Louis can produce no heir with which to secure the succession. But neither can he marry again while she lives… The web of scandal, murder and intrigue that once wove itself around the court of the Iron King continues to draw in his descendants, as the destruction of his dynasty continues apace.
With Philip the Fair's death, the crown passed on to Monseigneur Louis, a weak cuckolded husband unable to control the factions fighting bitterly at court for power and prestige. As famine plunges the kingdom into chaos, can King Louis X manage to hold in balance the infighting between the ambitious rivals, or will this conflict bring France on the brink of collapse? Once more, Maurice Druon demonstrates that he has an incredible eye for historical details and his narrative truly comes alive as you read along.
As was the case with The Iron King and will likely be the case for every single installment in this series, I found the translation to be very good. Again, it is at times literal and that can create occasional odd turns of phrase. Instead of relying on info-dumps, the author opted for footnotes sending you to the back of the book for more historical background and clarification. This maintains a fluid pace throughout the novel, and once again one reaches the end of this 280-page work in the blink of an eye. My only complaint about these books would be that they are too short.
The structure of the novel revolves around a number of disparate POVs which allows readers to witness events through the eyes of a variety of protagonists. This generates more emotional impact, as you see the web of scandal and intrigue which weaves itself around the French king and his entourage from both sides of the conflict. This is especially true with the POVs of both Marguerite and Marigny. As was the case with the first volume, the often amusing POV of Guccio Baglioni helps create a bit of a balance with the darker elements of the main story arc.
With family rivalries, politicking, betrayals and back-stabbings, ASOIAF fans will find a lot to love about Maurice Druon's The Accursed Kings. And considering that The Strangled Queen was also first published in 1955, the novel has aged quite well and is as easy to read as any contemporary novels being published today.
If you'd like to give this series a shot, the digital edition of The Iron King can still be downloaded for only 1.99$ here.