The King Without a Kingdom

As was the case with many other speculative fiction readers, I reckon it's thanks to George R. R. Martin that I discovered the excellent The Accursed Kings by French author Maurice Druon. As the main inspiration for A Song of Ice and Fire, I was eager to find out more about this series. The first two volumes were very good, but the third installment failed to live up to the expectations generated by its predecessors. The Royal Succession was a return to form for the author and I was looking forward to see if the fifth book would offer the same satisfying reading experience.

Ultimately, The She-Wolf didn't stand as well on its own as I thought it would. Druon continued to weave a vast number of threads in what is a great tapestry of men, women, and events that will shake the foundations of the kingdom of France and the rest of Europe. That hasn't changed. And yet, focusing more on the demise of King Edward II instead of the intrigues of the King of France's court, the fifth volume felt like some sort of interlude and was a bit discordant in the greater scheme of things. The following book, The Lily and the Lion, turned out to be more history textbook than novelization, and as such it was a disappointment.

Still, with family rivalries, politicking, betrayals and back-stabbings, ASOIAF fans will find a lot to love about Maurice Druon's The Accursed Kings. And given the fact that these books were first published back in the 50s, they have definitely aged well and are as easy to read as any contemporary novels on the market today. I was curious to see how the author would close the show in the final volume. Alas, Druon elected to change narrative form and this more or less killed The King Without a Kingdom from the get-go. It is by far the weakest in the series so far.

So much so that, like Glen Cook's recent Black Company novel, I suggest that readers simply skip it. It's a shame, but I now understand why it took so long for them to translate this final installment in English.

Here's the blurb:

Available for the first time in English, THE KING WITHOUT A KINGDOM is the seventh and final volume of The Accursed Kings series.

The reign of the Capetian kings has ended and John II, ‘The Good’, takes the throne.

Under the leadership of this vain, cruel, incompetent monarch The Hundred Years War escalates and England and France begin to tear each other apart. Warring factions plunder the land, famine threatens the people and the Black Death spreads far and wide. France is bleeding to death around the new king…

The structure of these novels has always revolved around a number of disparate POVs which allow readers to witness events through the eyes of a variety of protagonists. This helped generate more emotional impact, as you saw the web of scandal and intrigue weaving itself throughout all the storylines. This was what made the series so memorable, no question. Sadly, Druon decided to forgo this tried and true recipe and he went for a completely different narrative form. One that is so divergent and off-putting that it makes you want to throw the book across the room just a few chapters in.

Indeed, instead of going for an omiscient narrator, this time around the author opted for the first-person perspective of pompous Cardinal Talleyrand-Périgord, who recounts the catastrophic reign of John II and the escalation of the Hundred Years War. The narrative is little more than the vapid and pretentious recollections the cardinal shares with his newphew as his grand entourage travels toward Metz. Although the events elaborated upon are fascinating, the papal legate's monotonous monologues often make you want to open your veins in frustration.

As always, I found the translation to be quite good. As was the case with the other installments, it is at times too literal, creating occasional odd turns of phrase. But other than that, there's absolutely nothing to complain about. Instead of relying on info-dumps, Druon once again elected to go for footnotes sending you to the back of the novel for more historical background and clarification. In the past, this usually maintained a fluid pace throughout.

Unfortunately, The King Without a Kingdom failed to deliver on basically all fronts. To a certain extent, this seventh installment is a bit of a travesty, an inferior work that doesn't deserve to be part of The Accursed Kings.

The final verdict: 4/10

For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

2 commentaires:

Fred said...

Seventh? I thought there was 5 books in the series.

Patrick said...

Nope, seven volumes.