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Les Rois Maudits (full and final review) Tom Send a noteboard - 19/10/2011 08:18:00 PM
Les Rois Maudits (English translation: The Accursed Kings) is a series of six books by Maurice Druon. The books are historical fiction and describe events in France following the execution of the Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, in 1314 by Philippe IV (le Bel). De Molay cursed the king and his descendants to the thirteenth generation from his heretic's pyre, and this curse coincided with a fateful turn of events in France's history that led to calamitous results.

Far from attempting to validate the Grand Master's curse, Druon shows that the tragedies that befell France in subsequent years was the result of ambitious and brutal nobles. Robert III d'Artois, who felt he was wrongly deprived of his inheritance (the County of Artois), was driven by a sense of revenge that led to murders, a failure of the Capetian line and ultimately, the Hundred Years' War. His adversary (and aunt), Mahaut d'Artois, is shown as responsible for poisoning at least three kings and several other important people at court.

The series is plot-driven, and it is clear that these books are little more than diversionary reading. The quality of his prose is generally bad, and as soon as Druon starts to relate a scene of nature, or wax poetic about human existence, he falls flat on his face. Moreover, many of his plot twists are completely absurd. A case in point is the death of Jean I (le Posthume) five days after his birth. In Druon's novels, the baby is saved by switching him with another baby (who is then poisoned by Mahaut d'Artois), only to have those nobles who made the improbable switch fail to tell anyone. On the subject of poisoning, Druon uses poison to explain deaths far, far too often in this series, even taking into account the popularity of poison in the Middle Ages. Clearly, the series fails from an aesthetic perspective.

As history, too, the series is not a complete success. While Druon does provide copious footnotes with historical information, the novels themselves are works of fiction and many historical events portrayed in the novels are inaccurately recounted. A case in point is the death and burial of Robert d’Artois in Book VI. His death came from injuries sustained at Vannes, in Brittany, but following his injury he orchestrated a brilliant fighting withdrawal from the region. Druon, however, has him incapacitated immediately following his injury. He was buried at Blackfriars and later reburied at St. Paul’s, but Druon has him initially buried at St. Paul’s.

It is tempting as a result of all these failings to characterize Druon as a would-be Dumas with less literary talent. For all that, though, Druon is still at his best when he is inventing non-historical events, because the closer his books get to pure history, the worse they become. Books I and II were engaging and fast-paced, with fictional encounters (such as Guccio nearly knocking over Philippe IV in the market in Paris with his dogs) and dialogues that made the stories interesting. Book III was a bit uneven, and Book IV contained the ridiculous plot device of the secret survival of Jean I. Book V was only marginally more interesting than watching paint dry, being the book closest to straight history of the six. Book VI was once again entertaining, as it revolved around how Robert d’Artois tried to forge documents proving his claim to County Artois.

There is a seventh book in the series (Quand Un Écrivain Perd Sa Cervelle Quand Un Roi Perd La France) that I strongly discourage anyone from reading. It has nothing to do with the other six books and is written as a monologue by a cardinal while traveling and discusses later developments in the history of France. None of the characters from the first six books take any part in this seventh book, and it is filled with worthless asides that assume people are talking to the cardinal (but of course this conversation is not written down). Thus, the book moves from “and so the king signed the treaty. What? Are we stopping for the night already? Is this Orleans already? No...oh, yes, we’re still a day’s journey from there. Who? Oh, peasants want me to bless them? Yes, but at this rate we’ll never get to Metz. I bless the name of the fath...on...irit...Amen. Where was I? Oh, the joys of being a cardinal! I have seen so much...” and then picks up on a bland recital of “facts” that the reader would be better served receiving from an actual book of history.

The seventh book is, in fact, so bad that after eighty pages I quit, making this only the third book in seven years that I found so bad that I refused to at least read it to the end.

On balance, Les Rois Maudits is not really worth reading, but the first six books are somewhat entertaining for those who enjoy historical fiction. Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour, a standalone book about Richard III, is probably a better book for readers looking for historical fiction from the same general period, however.

Political correctness is the pettiest form of casuistry.

ἡ δὲ κἀκ τριῶν τρυπημάτων ἐργαζομένη ἐνεκάλει τῇ φύσει, δυσφορουμένη, ὅτι δὴ μὴ καὶ τοὺς τιτθοὺς αὐτῇ εὐρύτερον ἢ νῦν εἰσι τρυπώη, ὅπως καὶ ἄλλην ἐνταῦθα μίξιν ἐπιτεχνᾶσθαι δυνατὴ εἴη. – Procopius

Ummaka qinnassa nīk!

This message last edited by Tom on 19/10/2011 at 08:22:39 PM
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Les Rois Maudits (full and final review) - 19/10/2011 08:18:00 PM 8054 Views
I largely second your opinion - 21/10/2011 01:18:22 AM 1565 Views

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