I love France #47: Book review: The Iron King


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The Iron King
(The Accursed Kings, #1)


Maurice DRUON

Translator: Humphrey HARE

368 pages

Publication date: March 26, 2013, by Harper Collins
First published in French in 1955

Iron King

Ebook received from Harper Collins
via Edelweiss

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

     Books on France    hf-reading-challenge-2013

2013 Ebook Challenge


Rating system

I may have read this book 30 years ago or so in French, as I think my mother liked this author and was recommending it to me. Or maybe I did NOT read it, BECAUSE she recommended it…

Anyway, being a lot more now into historical fiction and into books related to France, it was a real treat to see this book translated in English. Not sure if this is the first English translation. I believe the translator did a superb job, as I never had the feeling that the book “stinks” translation, as I sometimes say; and being myself an English-French translator, I can recognize those from afar.

It is so well done, full of wonderful descriptions of settings, people, characters, conspiracy, jealousy, and courtly intrigues – that do not end well at all for some lovers, to say the least…
I also like how Druon inserts little reflexions on characters, on life, sometimes with black humor, and always on target – see 2 examples in Quotations here below.

The book is based on the very heated relationship between Philip IV of France, called the Fair (Philippe le Bel, ou le roi de fer – the Iron King) (1268-1314) and the Knights Templar – whom he ended up exterminating. The novel opens with just a few Templars remaining, and the highest of them, their Grand Master Jacques de Molay.

A legend says that Jacques cursed the King and his descendants for 13 generations, as he was burning to death. The novel is based on this, and then how the curse unravels – whether there was a curse or not, the historical events that took place after did happen.

Alongside, there’s a second plot, with the attempts of Robert of Artois to reclaim the county of Artois from his aunt Mahaut.

The ambiance of the period is superbly conveyed; as well as the meanness of some characters: if Philip is the Iron King, his councilor and keeper of the seal, Guillaume de Nogaret, may even be worse in his coldness – instrumental here in the torture scenes.

At the beginning, the relationships between the main characters maybe a bit confusing, but the author provided a very helpful list of characters and a simplified genealogy tree. As I was reading this as an ebook, it was a bit awkward to go back to it, so I ended up having to do some complex things to print these pages!! First time I see one problem with ebooks.

Now, why on earth is it marketed as the real “Game of Thrones?” This is not fantasy at all, this is a historical novel, closely based on all too real historical events.

If you are into royal stories, but are getting tired of the Tudors, I highly recommend this book; and hopefully the next volumes will soon be published in English as well.


There is a singular strand running through history, always renewing itself, that of fanatics for the general good and for the written law. Logical to the point of inhumanity, pitiless towards others as towards themselves, these servants of abstract gods and of absolute law accept the role of executioners, because they wish to be the last executioner. They deceive themselves because, once dead, the world no longer obeys them.  p.169 [about Nogaret]

Every man believes to some extent that the world began when he was born and, at the moment of leaving it, suffers at having to let the Universe remain unfinished.    p.255, when King Philip is dying


 “Accursed! Accursed! You shall be accursed to the thirteenth generation!”The Iron King – Philip the Fair – is as cold and silent, as handsome and unblinking as a statue. He governs his realm with an iron hand, but he cannot rule his own family: his sons are weak and their wives adulterous; while his red-blooded daughter Isabella is unhappily married to an English king who prefers the company of men.A web of scandal, murder and intrigue is weaving itself around the Iron King; but his downfall will come from an unexpected quarter. Bent on the persecution of the rich and powerful Knights Templar, Philip sentences Grand Master Jacques Molay to be burned at the stake, thus drawing down upon himself a curse that will destroy his entire dynasty…[Goodreads]


Maurice Druon

Maurice Druon (1918-2009) was born in Paris. He is the nephew of the writer Joseph Kessel, with whom he wrote the Chant des Partisans, which, with music composed by Anna Marly, was used as an anthem by the French Resistance during the Second World War.
In 1948 he received the Prix Goncourt for his novel Les grandes familles. On December 8, 1966, he was elected to the 30th seat of the Académie française, succeeding Georges Duhamel.
While his scholarly writing earned him a seat at the Académie, he is best known for a series of seven historical novels published in the 1950s under the title Les Rois Maudits (The Accursed Kings).
He was Minister of Cultural Affairs in 1973 and 1974 in Pierre Messmer’s cabinet, and a deputy of Paris from 1978 to 1981.


She Reads Novels
Historical Tapestry




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22 thoughts on “I love France #47: Book review: The Iron King

  1. Pingback: 2013 – Books on France challenge – My list | Words And Peace

  2. Pingback: 2013 Ebook Reading Challenge | Words And Peace

    • by the way, do you know about Edelweiss? that’s where I got it for free. click on the link in my review if you don’t know, and set up a free account to request it. It’s a system like netgalley, with many more books, and larger variety of genres


        • Netgalley [https://www.netgalley.com/ – read the tab ‘how it works’] and Edelweiss [http://edelweiss.abovethetreeline.com/Galleys.aspx?group=galleys] or 2 services that allow book bloggers to request and receive books [mostly ebooks] for free, usually way before publication date. you get several weeks to read them, and you post your review on your blog, and also you send your review through their blog. you can search by genre, publisher, author, title, etc. have a look, that’s really worth it. I have read 26 books so far this year, and 14 were received for free from publishers. I have a nook color to read the ebooks, as they are sent as .pdf or .epub. I don’t think you could read those on kindle that has its own exclusive ebook format!


  3. I’ve never heard of this author, but that’s perhaps not surprising given that he was originally published in French. Historical fiction isn’t my favourite genre, but it does sound interesting.


  4. Pingback: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013 | Words And Peace

  5. Pingback: 2013: March wrap-up | Words And Peace

  6. Pingback: Book review: The Kabbalist | Words And Peace

  7. Pingback: Six degrees of separation: from the Bible to Canterbury | Words And Peace

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