Review: The Strangled Queen by Maurice Druon

Sunday, October 27, 2013
Title: The Strangled Queen
Author: Maurice Druon
Genre: historical fiction
Series: The Accursed Kings/Les Rois Maudits #2

Pages: 304
Published: April 2013
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

The King is dead. Long live the King.

With King Philip IV dead, and the Kingdom left in disarray, as the fatal curse of the Templars plagues the royal house of France.

Imprisoned in Chateau Gaillard, Marguerite of Burgundy has fallen into disgrace. Her infidelity has left her estranged husband, Louis X King of France, with neither heir nor wife.

The web of scandal, murder and intrigue that once wove itself around the Iron King continues to afflict his descendants, as the destruction of his dynasty continues at the hands of fate.

Though that  three out of five is a hard come-down from the 4.5/5 I gave the series first book, The Iron King, I still greatly relished my read of Druon's second novel. The narration can feel a bit dry and the dialogue stiff, but The Strangled Queen is a compelling story and unadorned look into the complicated existence and unlikely death of the wife of Louis X ("Louis the Quarreler"), Margaret (called Marguerite here) of Burgundy.

As I've mentioned before, fans of the popular A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones will find a lot to love in this more purely historical series. The obvious influence Druon's books had on Martin is undeniable and shows from character to plotting. Marguerite of Burgundy, the Queen who I think most inspired Martin's Cersei, takes the forefront here for the second novel. Fallen far from where she was, the shorn and imprisoned Margaret must pray and  hope for release or redemption. And when her stern father-in-law, the King, dies, her hopes rise higher than ever in her months-long incarceration.

Marguerite is a complex woman and as a character she can be very inscrutable. Her ends, means, and ways are far from what one would expect of a typical noblewoman. She's smart but selfish, cunning but cold, clever but arrogant. Her sister shares many of her traits, but comes across as far less tough-minded than her sister. As with most characters in the books, more time is spent expanding on circumstances than truly developing the cast into three dimensional beings. It's easy to sympathize with various characters, but there is an emotional disconnect when it comes to feeling true empathy for any of them.

While I do wish for more from/about the characters themselves, I greatly appreciate that Druon paints them all equally morally gray. Marguerite is a prime example of moral ambiguity this but so too is Robert of Artois, the closest thing to a main villain these two books have had. Robert is more obviously "bad", but almost all characters have both good points and bad points to round them out. The conflicts, both large and small in scale, serve to show who is on who's side, who wants what for whom and why.... at least for now. In the constantly shifting court, who was evil before could very well end up a hero the next day.

Add into the uncertain fray Margaret's own weak husband's plans, her avaricious cousin Robert of Artois's schemes, her cunning uncle Charles's designs... well, it's safe to say that court life in Louis new reign is an unpredictable one. From family to civil servants, it often seems like everyone in Druon's series is out for themselves. It's a dangerous, complex world and this is an author who excels at painting court intrigue and suspense into his narrative.

Read it for its cultural influence. Read it because it's historical fiction that makes you curious about the real events. Read it because it's short and fast. Read it because it's just good.

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