Right about the time I was asking for recommendations regarding French history, someone posted on Tumblr asked about The Accursed Kings series by Maurice Duron. I hadn’t heard of it, but when I looked it up, the reviews all toted it as The Original Game of Thrones! Well of course, I had to jump right on it, so I ordered the first book from my library. Little did I realize that not only did George RR Martin love the series and do the introduction, but it was also about the 100 year war between England and France!
Well, you can imagine my excitement. When I read Martin’s introduction, I was stoked. Martin is pretty grumpy, but to hear him rave about Druon left me with high expectations. I was even debating if I should start learning French so I could read the last two books (which haven’t been translated into English). I thought, “Yes! This will give me more of a foundation into medieval French history that I’ve been looking for.” At least the early years.
But, with high expectations come big disappointments. The subject matter was interesting, but the writing was lackluster. Sorry, George, I just could not get into this at all. I can definitely see the Game of Thrones type storyline. The history certainly the potential for drama, but the prose lacks all emotion whatsoever. It is a complete yawn that left me scanning just to get to the end of the chapter so I could do something else. And that means I retained nothing and gained nothing.
I can tell you the king is Philip the Fair, and there were three princesses that had simultaneous affairs. That’s about it. Oh and there was a poisonous candle somewhere in the mix. I’m going to have to find another version to figure out what actually happened. Something that can hold my attention. This one did not do it.
Sigh. On to the next!
Some books trail just at the edge of my memory. Pieces of their plots or familiar characters are remembered when I read other stories, or I think about them when I’m having a conversation about a similar subject. The Gargoyle is one of those books for me. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately–it sits at eye level on one of my shelves, and so it’s been peaking out at me. It’s also one of those books that encompasses so much legend that hints of it are everywhere. I knew I was going to have to read it again soon, and I am so glad I did. I forgot just how amazing it was.
At its core, The Gargoyle is a very realistic, detailed story about a burn victim. This isn’t come Hollywood version, though, where the person is horrifically burned, then walks out of the hospital scarred, but pain free in a week or so. The healing process in this book is excruciating, lengthy, and frustrating.
That is only the base of the story–in between the lines are other tales, as told by the narrator’s caregiver, a mysterious woman who comes into his life out of the past. This is where the legends come in. Medieval German Catholicism is heavy here, predating Luther. I may not be Catholic, but as I am fascinated by Western Medieval history…I can’t get far without finding the lore of Catholicism interesting as well. There is also Japanese, Norse, and Italian mythology wrapped up in Marianne Engel’s stories–especially Dante’s version of Hell.
Andrew Davidson is a genius, an artist. The Gargoyle is so well constructed that you’ll find yourself lost in the best possible manner. How often do you read a book with a nameless narrator, who is the main character, and come out on the other side completely transfixed? I could read this all over again right now and be completely happy.
But, alas, it goes back on the shelf for now…