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Old 04 August 2015, 10:36 PM
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Richard W Richard W is offline
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,352

In July, I finally finished Maurice Druon's Cursed Kings series - the last two were The Lily & The Lion (trans. Humphrey Hare) and The King Without a Kingdom (trans. Andrew Simpkin). There's a split in the series between those two - they were originally published 17 years apart (1960 and 1977), and this is the first time that The King Without a Kingdom has been published in English. That's why it has a different translator.

I've mentioned that George R R Martin wrote a foreword to the series explaining how it influenced A Song of Ice and Fire. The Lily & The Lion is another in which the influence is obvious - the main viewpoint character dies arbitrarily in a pointless skirmish at the end, just as everything is going well for him and his schemes are building to a climax.

The difference is that Druon is writing historical novels, and this event was decided for him by history rather than choice. He seems to have been rather fed up by it and basically says he can't be bothered to carry on now, ends the plot, skips 11 years and writes an afterword which is a separate story based on an event from earlier in the series.

The separate story is also historical in the sense that somebody claiming to be the legitimate French king, who had been substituted at birth with a baby who died, did in fact turn up in Italy in the mid-14th Century and spend a few years travelling Europe and trying to persuade people of his cause, with varying success. Druon chooses to take his claim as the truth, when in reality it would have been very unlikely to have been true. It's a better story this way, though, and it makes no difference to the outcome.

The King Without a Kingdom skips back closer to the end of the original story, but is written in a very different style - instead of a neutral narrator following the most relevant characters without much editorial voice, it's narrated in the first person by the Cardinal of Périgord as he travels to an audience with the Holy Roman Emperor. (The Cardinal of Périgord is Talleyrand, although not the famous Talleyrand from Napoleonic times - an ancestor of his). It's all the Cardinal's telling of the story to an audience of people who are supposedly dropping in and out of his palanquin. I didn't get on so well with the style - the translator also seemed to have a more consciously modern and Anglicized style as well, using "John" instead of "Jean" for the French king, for example. That was confusing since I'm still reading about the Magna Carta and had to keep remembering that it wasn't the same John. The narration made the story seem a little oblique and distant, but I still enjoyed it. This one had an historical equivalent of the Red Wedding in it, although it wasn't actually a wedding. (You could probably find lots of historical equivalents if you tried - one of George Mackay Brown's books, Vinland, has another similar event that happened in Orkney around about the 11th century).

I read Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch. I had been a bit disappointed by Broken Homes but this one picked up again and I think is one of the best in the series. It's set outside London, for a break, and I also enjoyed it because, despite being set in an obscure part of Herefordshire, I know the locations. My aunt and uncle live in Luston (mentioned in passing - not to be confused with Lucton, which is nearby and mentioned a few more times). So I've been to Bircher Common, which is central to the plot, as a child on lots of occasions. In the book, it's a dogging hotspot. I don't think dogging had been invented back when I knew it. Everybody was still swinging about their pampas grass back then.

I read a bit more of Canterbury Tales, for the first time in ages - the Shipman, Prioress, and Chaucer's own Sir Topaz, which is interrupted by the Host dissing him in an early rap battle.
"Myne eres aken of thy drasty speche. Now swich a rym the devel I biteche! ... for pleynly at a word, thy drasty ryming is nat worth a toord!"
Then I read a couple of PG Wodehouse novels from The Jeeves Omnibus 2 - Right Ho, Jeeves, which is the one where everybody ends up engaged to the wrong people, Bertie's plans go wrong, somebody steals something or falls in a pond, and then Jeeves fixes everything by making Bertie look stupid, and Joy in the Morning, which is the one where everybody ends up engaged to the wrong people, Bertie's plans go wrong, somebody steals something or falls in a pond, and then Jeeves fixes everything by making Bertie look stupid.

Currently I'm reading The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett. It's three different versions of a romance - I had my own explanation, but then read this review which puts it much better, so I'll just quote:

In version one, Eva and Jim meet and fall in love at university in the 1950s; in version two, they just miss one another; and in version three, it all goes horribly wrong.
It's rather good - I think I will get it for my mum for her birthday.

Last edited by Richard W; 04 August 2015 at 10:50 PM. Reason: Various clarifications
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