The Poisoned Crown
George R. R. Martin wrote an enthusiastic introduction to this novel, acknowledging that it was a source for A Game of Thrones. This third volume of The Accursed Kings may be read independently, but the reader who joins the series in progress will want to go back to the beginning, when a Templar about to be executed curses king, pope and minister, a curse that plays out over a half-century of French history. The reign of Louis X (the Quarrelsome) provides the central subject matter for this volume, but the most compelling plot revolves around the continuing struggle between the Countess Mahout and her nephew Robert over the disputed inheritance of Artois. The dispute between these two equally villainous characters results in the poisoning of a king and the strangling of a queen, with dire consequences for the kingdom of France and eventually for England, too.
Historical endnotes help to establish the book’s solid history. (This book must be read with two bookmarks.) However, Druon’s speculation and invention achieve certainty where legitimate history can only leave doubts. Since the series was written in the 1950s, it has taken on a life of its own and has almost become the accepted history of the first half of the 14th century in France. When I read the first one and went back to the French bookstore to order the next, they had anticipated that I would want them all and had the rest of the series in stock. You will probably want to read them all regardless of which volume you read first: The Iron King, The Strangled Queen, The Poisoned Crown, The Royal Succession, The She-Wolf of France (to be retitled The She-Wolf), The Lily and the Lion, or The King Without a Kingdom. Highly recommended.