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Book Review


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The Lily and the Lion

 

Author: Maurice Druon
Publisher: Harper Voyager
RRP: £8.99
ISBN: 978 0 00 749136 0
Publication Date: 01 January 2015


On the surface, twelfth century Europe appears to have found some peace. Edward II has been deposed from the throne of England and Charles IV reigns in France, but the Templar curse still haunts the French court...

The Lily and the Lion (402 pages) is the sixth book in The Accursed Kings series of historical novels, written by Maurice Druon and translated from the French by Humphrey Hare.

With Isabella triumphantly back in England and her son next in line for the throne things should be both peaceful and contented, however this is not the way of the courts of France and England. Mortimer, who had provided both the romantic and heroic lead in the previous novel – The She Wolf – has allowed the position of protector of the kingdom go to his head. Greeted by rapturous adulation on his return, he sets about securing his power base, by placing his own lackeys in important positions. Isabella, who is so in love with him that she is blind to the risks they run in living together, openly does little to temper his ambitions, much to the disgust of her son, who awaits his coming of age to ascend to the throne.

Meanwhile, in France, Charles IV is dying without an heir, leaving a power vacuum which is filled by the decades old feud between Mahaut of Artois, killer of kings and her nephew, Robert; a fight to the death which leaves neither one standing.

If the previous novel examined the idea that the power of love can change nations, then this one shows how power and its pursuit can corrupt to the ruination of those seeking it. Mortimer, ostentatiously the vainglorious hero of The She Wolf, unfortunately makes the same mistake as many who have gained power by the removal of another, not realising that he too could also be removed. From the strong force of will, which Isabella represented, she has fallen completely under Mortimer’s spell, to the point of ordering the death of her husband Edward II, with little consideration as to how this would affect his son and future king. In the joy of their triumph the pair sows the seeds of their own destruction.

One of the main threads of the series has been Robert of Artois, king maker and often the real power behind the throne. However, every great man has his weakness and for Robert it is the loss of the region of Artois to his aunt, a deeply dangerous and unpleasant woman, who thinks little of killing her own relatives to further her own political gains. It is this clash of titans, against the backdrop of Charles’ demise, which makes up the bulk of the story of the French court.

Once again we are led through the story with alternating points of view, although this does allow for a story with a large number of characters. In an effort to help keep track of these and their interrelationships, the novel has a list of characters at the beginning. It has the same forward by George R. R. Martin, which has adorned all the books in the series and useful historical annotations at the back of the book.

Although the series was written after the Second World War, they remain compelling reading, a great series, wonderfully translated by Hare.

9

Charles Packer

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