I enjoyed The Iron King, but I didn't care for the way Druon just told me what his characters' motivations were instead of showing me. Perhaps becauseI enjoyed The Iron King, but I didn't care for the way Druon just told me what his characters' motivations were instead of showing me. Perhaps because this is the second in the series, and characters are already established, there was far less of that. What did strike me, however, is that Druon doesn't seem to know how to write a young woman. His depiction of Mahaut is interesting; I'd like to read more about her because she shows some character. But the way he writes Marguerite and Blanche, Marie de Cressay, and Clemence of Hungary is a bit dull. They all appear to live for nothing other than love or their romantic idea of it. The older women, such as Marie's mother or Clemence's grandmother, Marie of Hungary, have more dimension. Of course, one can argue that young woman of the time had few options, and marriage was generally it, so much of their attention would be focused on that aspect of their life, while older women--who presumably have married and had children--would begin to expand their interests and pay attention to other matters. There's some justice in that, but the idea that none of the young women in the book see beyond the marital/romantic is disappointing. Certainly Marguerite and Blanche, incarcerated and abandoned, have the greatest cause to be focused only on themselves and their loneliness. But they weren't particularly well-rounded in The Iron King, either....more
Druon's The Iron King is a engaging work; it certainly drew me in. It's a time in history about which I know little, so I've enjoyed my introduction,Druon's The Iron King is a engaging work; it certainly drew me in. It's a time in history about which I know little, so I've enjoyed my introduction, even if it is fictional. I appreciate that Druon doesn't just write about kings, queens, and princes. Some of the more interesting glimpses into the age come from the time he spends with the Lombardy banking community. I also appreciate that he manages a large cast well; it's not often that I have to go back to an earlier point in the story to figure out who's who.
Another thing that I like is that Druon doesn't whitewash his characters. He's based them on real figures, and he doesn't choose one as a hero. One might have thought that his hero would be Robert of Artois, but Artois disappears for several chapters and is not always a likeable figure (he becomes more questionable as the books proceed). Perhaps the character for whom Druon feels the least empathy is Charles of Valois, as there's nothing particularly redeeming or attractive to a modern audience. Nonetheless, even if Valois is to be considered the "villain" (and he's not), he's not portrayed in two dimensional terms.
All of that being said, there are some things that I don't care for. I am reading this in translation, but I don't believe that it is the translator is at fault. Druon has a tendency (particularly in this first book) to spell out, pretty much as soon as the reader meets them, his character's motivations. I didn't discover who these characters were; for the most part, the author told me in a few paragraphs. I prefer to be shown, not told. I also found his portrait of Philip the Fair to be unconvincing. Druon took the quote that Philip as neither a beast nor a man, but, rather, a statue, to heart. So Philip doesn't have a personality--just a will. It's possible that Philip the Fair may have been like that, but it's difficult to imagine how anyone who doesn't seem to connect with others managed to dominate a rebellious baron class, institute widespread reforms, and expand a kingdom. I'm not persuaded that force of will alone, even in a medieval monarchy, would do it....more
Hutchinson is very much an author of popular history; he tells his story pretty well, but there is very little analysis or thoughtful interpretation oHutchinson is very much an author of popular history; he tells his story pretty well, but there is very little analysis or thoughtful interpretation of events and motivations. He excels at characterizing historical figures in somewhat cursory and contradictory ways. His description of Cromwell as an opportunist only interested in his own gain--evident both here and in his biography of Cromwell--is a case in point; Cromwell is venal, and thus abandons Wolsey at the latter's fall, but Hutchinson then can't explain why Cromwell fought against the bill of attainder brought in against Wolsey. If Cromwell is so disloyal, why is he loyal to his former master at a time when almost everyone else had abandoned Wolsey?
The Howards are a fascinating family who engaged in a challenging balancing act throughout the Tudor period, but Hutchinson contents himself with broad characterizations of the main players and a description of events, without any meaningful interpretation. Little explanation is given to how Thomas Howard, 3d Duke of Norfolk, formed and maintained alliances during the treacherous years of Henry VIII, how he survived the execution of two nieces who he promoted as his monarch's wives, or his reaction to the religious reforms of the time (other than to describe him as "conservative"--true, but hardly revealing.
Further, the narrative is chronologically driven, but relentlessly focused on Hutchinson's protagonist (for the majority of the book, the 3d Duke of Norfolk), without any real discussion of what else was happening in England at the time. By failing to provide meaningful context, Hutchinson deprives us of the opportunity to see how events impacted the Howards, and how the Howards responded to/manipulated events to promote their own interests.
Hutchinson is a decent writer, but his failure to go beyond the surface makes this history a disappointment, which is a pity because the Howards give a historian a great deal to work with....more