This is the second installment of Maurice Druon's The Accursed Kings, perhaps better known these days as the French historical fiction series that played a part in inspiring George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The books depict a most tumultuous time in the history of France, leading up to the Hundred Years' War.
The previous book (The Iron King - see my summary and review here) ended with the death of King Philip IV. Everyone is thinking the same thing: that it appears the Templar curse is still running rampant through the French court. Eldest son Louis X takes the throne, but with his wife Marguerite of Burgundy and her cousin Blanche still imprisoned in Chateau Gaillard for adultery, he can neither produce an heir to secure the succession nor take another wife while technically still married.
This being a period of time in which the royal court was rife with scandal and corruption and when loyalties could be bought and sold, I have to say that this story practically writes itself. The title itself is a major spoiler, but history also gives us a clue as to what to expect. There aren't too many surprises here, and like a TV producer planning out a season's episodes, Maurice Druon chooses to save the juiciest bits in history for his book's climax and ending.
So it didn't surprise me that this book started out kind of slow; there's a lot of character development and build up of the story. Even though I knew what to expect, the fun was in sitting back and watching how Druon tells it, letting him lead me through the complicated tangle of lies and intrigue.
The writing style continues to be a challenge, but I realized with this book that it's not so much the French-to-English translation that's the cause. Most often it's the author's omniscient narrative mode jumping into different minds and different times, sometimes even talking about future events like a history book that creates the most distraction.
Even past the translation I could tell Maurice Druon was a witty guy, though; there's subtle humor in the writing, especially when we get into the characters' thoughts. I'm really liking the character development in this series so far; some of them in this book you'll simply love to hate, because they are just so despicable. It's this aspect that reminds me so much of GRRM's ASoIaF. The only solace I get is knowing that sooner or later, they'll get theirs.