Philip the Fair, Queen Isabella of England,
Spinello Tolomei, Guccio Baglioni
After reading on George R. R. Martin’s blog that this series of books was the inspiration behind the A Song of Ice and Fire series, I eagerly picked up this book from my local bookstore. As Martin said, the characters in this tale were as clever and as cunning as any in the Game of Thrones, however, the fact that all of them were real people made this book extremely appealing to me because you all know how much I love historical fiction. Alongside this, the fact that the novel was written by a French author about French history also had a great appeal to me because most of the historical fiction I’ve read has always been written by Englishmen and therefore, I think always making the stories a little one sided!
The book takes place in the early 14th century and is based around the court of Philip the Fair, or as some call him the ‘Iron King’. King Philip and his advisors have just managed to finally murder the last of the innocent Templar Knights that had been living in France since the last Crusade. In an attempt to seize their money and power, Philip and his advisors had created false accusations of heresy, sodomy and many other vile acts to create a case against the once respected Templars. However, just before the Grand Master of the Knights, Jacques De Molay is finally burned, he puts a curse on Philip’s family (the Capets) which curses their line to the 13th generation.
Meanwhile in England, the new Queen Isabella (Philip’s daughter) is plotting against her three sister-in-laws. There are rumours circulating around Paris and even in London that her three sister-in-laws; Marguerite, Jeanne and Blanche have lovers other than their husbands. If proved to be true, this outrage could bring great shame to the House of Capet. Isabella uses her quick mind to try and find out if the rumours are true and punish her sister-in-laws for the shame they are bringing to France.
The final story in the novel is that of Guccio Baglioni who is the nephew of a wealthy Italian banker called Spinello Tolomei. Guccio is tasked with sending a message to Queen Isabella to help her find evidence against her sister-in-laws. On his way back from England, Guccio is also given the chore of retrieving a debt from a noble family that has fallen on hard times. However, when he gets to the family’s house, he falls in love with their daughter and gives them a further year to pay off their debts. This act of kindness helps Guccio and his uncle later on in the novel after it is discovered that King Philip is moving to expel all of the Italian bankers from France. Tolomei tasks his nephew with finding a safe place to hide a document that could be used to blackmail one of the King’s advisors into preventing the expulsion. Guccio decides the best place to hide the item is at his new love’s run down home.
As I said before I was excited to read this book because of the amount of social intrigue George R. R. Martin said there was in it. If I’m been honest, this aspect of the novel was a little disappointing for me because there was no point in the book where I was on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next, like I always am when I’m reading Martin’s novels. However, as a historical fiction novel I thought it was brilliant and as Martin said, the characters in the book are great because they are so evil, naïve and cunning like many of the characters in the Game of Thrones, however, these characters are all real, making the events in the book seem even more cold and hard-heated then they already are! Moreover, the events of this time were interesting to read because it was the prelude to the Hundred Years War, which I'm fascinated with and it was interesting to see these events from a French perspective.
All in all, this was a good historical fiction novel but I think it was a little misleading with some of the marketing on the book. I am definitely going to continue the series and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next novel! I would suggest this book to anyone who is a historical fiction fan and enjoys books such as Bernard Cornwell’s Thomas Hookton novels. I would also suggest it to fans of George R. R. Martin and I’d be really interested to hear what you thought of the book, so please let me know if you have read it!
For author’s official HarperCollins page click here.