Sunday, July 20, 2014

Number 17 is The She-Wolf of France by Maurice Druon

Book number 5 in the Accursed Kings series, this one deals with the titular She-Wolf, Isabella, the only daughter of King Louis the Fair. Isabella, at the tender age of 12, was married off to Edward II of England. It was not a good match.

Edward II  was a weak king. Overfond of certain favourites, and perhaps homosexual, he quarreled with his barons nearly constantly, alienated his wife and ended up having to abdicate his throne to his son, who would become the very compentent and extremly war-like Edward III.

Most of the book concerns Isabella and her unhappiness. Her mistreatment at the hands of Edward's favourite pet, Hugh Despenser the Younger was enough that eventually she fled home to France and when she finally returned years later, it was at the head of an invasionary force, with her lover, the exiled baron Roger Mortimer.

Druon gives Isabella a good account, she is generally a strong woman, but her relationship with Mortimer is wrong, and she realizes enough that she is a hypocrite, but she also wants to finally be happy, and realizes that such a thing would never be possible with Edward. She is fortunate enough that her husband was a lousy king, so she wasn't the only one who wanted to be rid of him.

We also check in on the current King of France (the third of Isabella's brothers), Charles, another not strong ruler, who never forgives his sister for the part she played in the downfall of Charles' first wife, Blanche, and who basically spends his time letting his uncle of Valois rule (until Charles of Valois passes away) and hoping that his third wife will bear him a son.

Also of course, there is Guiccio, the young Lombard, who finally returns to France to see the son he has never before met. Of course though, he doesn't know that this isn't his son, but the rightful king of France, the son of Louis the Hutin. He is never told, but the wily Pope manages to worm the truth of Lord Bouville (pretty much only of the only, seemingly truly nice and good characters in these books), and learns of the Prince's existence.

The book ends with Edwards gruesome (and most probably not true) death. I liked this book a lot because, in dealing with England, it was more familiar territory for me, so I was able to 'place' when things were happening easier. With the death of Edward II and the soon to be ascension of Edward III, the Hundred Years War is bearing down on the French with frightening speed.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Kings aplenty

Couple behind again, so another 2fer.

Book # 15 is The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.

This book came recommended by my favourite author, Guy Gavriel Kay. And whooboy could I see the influence this book had over his writing. I don't say that in a bad way though, more in a 'that's very interesting' way.

The Game of Kings deals with the time period just after Henry VIII's death, when his young, sickly son, Edward the VI is on the throne. The English and Scots are fighting, and part of the fighting is to force the nobility of Scotland to marry their young Queen, Mary, to Edward, and unify the two nations. Of course the Scots aren't particularly in favour of this idea.

This book introduces us to noble rogue extrordinaire, Francis Crawford of Lymond. AKA one of the obvious templates for my absolute favourite character of Kay's, Prince Diarmuid dan Ailel. The similarities are absolutely striking, from their appearance, their love of a certain tavern, the stormy relationship with an elder brother... just so many. Lymond's a fascinating character, brilliant, misunderstood, dangerous, Machiavellian and too smart for his own good. He's often impenetrable though, and sometimes, the novel is like that as well.

This isn't an... easy read. There's untranslated French, a fairly vast cast of characters to keep straight, and enough literary illusions to give even this English major some pause. But all that said, I really liked this book, especially when Lymond is humbled a little. The other characters are quite good too; especially Lymond's mother and Christian Stewart. There are great themes of betrayal and loyalty and a heck of a lot of things not being what they seem, which is what gives this book, and Lymond himself, a lot of their drive.

Book #16 is NOS4A2 by Joe Hill.

Joe Hill has written a wonderfully creepy book that evokes all the good stuff about his father's early work, but also with his own stamp on it. The supernatural in this book isn't really explained, it just IS, and I'm good with that. Victoria McQueen is a very messed up bad-ass with a special ability to find things. She crosses paths with the very bad Charlie Manx, kidnapper of young children and 'creator' of Christmasland, the place he spirits his charges away to, in his 1920s Rolls Royce Wraith. And basically, bad things happen. Also important to note, that despite the title, this is not yet another vampire book. There's some very, very slight vampiric tones, but nothing overt, and I liked that subversion of it. The action was also good and scary and there were numerous times where I didn't think anyone was getting out of this alive. So the stakes were appropriately high. And well done.