Sunday, December 4, 2016

A French Bucket

An idle week in the semester found me hungry for some desperate amount of entertainment and having had my fill of TV series and the books bought in the last Books by weight expo, I casually remembered a point on my bucket list. Having received rave reviews from many quarters and hailed as the ‘original Game Of Thrones’ by George R.R. Martin himself, I was eager to lay my hands on the seven book series, The Accursed Kings. Typing away on my laptop, I came across the first book in the series: The Iron King.

Before I start, I must make mention of the fact that the book series were originally written in French and have only been recently translated to English by HarperCollins, including audiobooks. A search for the soft copies of the books may result in either badly translated versions or French versions. So, you’ll have to sift carefully or get the hard copies from somewhere.

Based on the last few years of the tumultuous reign of Philip IV of France, famously known as ‘Philip the Fair’ (it is imperative to note that the moniker of ‘Fair’ is because of the drop-down-dead charming looks of the king, not on his sense of jurisprudence), the book weaves the elements of a French Court puppeteered by the iron hand of a dictatorial king seamlessly into your imagination. It describes in evocative detail how the events unfolded during those stormy years in the lives of the handsome French King and consequently the kingdom.

The protagonist of the novel, Philip IV, steals the thunder in every page of the novel. Right from the incalculable Machiavellian attitude towards statecraft to the vice-like grip that he extends over his feeble extended family, which includes his strong-willed and popular daughter Queen Isabella of England, from the realpolitik applied to state machinations to, and this is something that the reader is never put in doubt of, a burning desire to see France as a hegemonic power in European power struggles, one is equally repulsed and magnetised by Philip IV.

As the story moves forward, meandering from the Knights Templar to the infamous Tour de Nesle affair (in case you don’t know this, don’t Google it before you have read The Iron King), we are given an unforgiving picture of 14th century France and the various stakeholders in the power game. All the characters, be it the vengeful Robert of Artois or the holier than thou Queen Isabella, the book clearly establishes the driving force for every character in the book: self-interest. And that, is the unforgiving picture that the paintbrush of Maurice Druon mercilessly paints.

One striking characteristic of this book, apart from the gripping storyline and the rich characterisation of French court intrigue, is the singular rejection to pass judgement on any characters in the story. The author summarily desists from taking sides anywhere in the story, leaving that to the readers. Indeed even the stone cold King Philip, who otherwise may come across to be a cruel tyrant, shines brilliantly in vivid shades of grey. One small part in the book is worth mentioning, when the King comes across a quip about himself from a subject which says, ‘There is no other prince more handsome or more cruel’. When King Philip reads this, he is visibly shocked and expresses the same to his shrewd minister Enguerrand de Marigny. Marigny, not a flatterer himself, does nothing to dispel the sorry realization the King just had about his popularity in his realm.

The book is nothing like a history lesson but is a roller coaster ride into the heart of 14th century France, keeping its reader at the edge of the seat as he is confronted with cascading storylines, all coming together in a epic finale, which ties up all loose ends and brings all the pivotal characters in one place. Engaging characters and a royal court ridden with scandal, adultery and deceit, held together by The Iron King surrounded by a family full of self serving schemers is just the thing one needs to while away some of those sticky hours during vacation.

Pick up these books if you’ve ever been interested in French history or love thrillers. Fans of the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series would especially appreciate this novel as a real life game of thrones brought alive by the skilled penmanship of Maurice Druon. I am yet to read all seven parts of the series, but the first one behoves a promising journey! Happy reading! By Aparajeya Dash
PS.: I am still trying to find all the seven books. If anybody has all the books (print or otherwise), feel free to contact me.