“The She-Wolf of France” skips years ahead from the last “Accursed Kings” novel, and focuses heavily enough on so many new characters and conflicts that it feels like a new, separate movement in the series compared to the first four books. After all the events of the last book, and presumably the lack of history Druon was enthused to write about in the intervening years, I think making the book disconnected from, and quite a while after, the first four book’s events was a smart choice. Although I certainly wouldn’t have minded a more lowkey book focused on Philippe V’s reign.
The timeskip and displacement of the narrative over to English courts and conflicts lets the series feel self-reflective in the way a lot of its characters do at this point. Guccio and Marie ponder over years gone past and how they have or haven’t changed (”She had crushed each moment of that past in the mill of her memory”, “The bitterness he had nursed for nine years could not be forgotten all at once”), and I feel as a reader pushed to reconsider the sort of conflicts that seem to reoccur again and again in the series, this time more with the English than the French. Was Druon going for that kind of examination of the timelessness of war, heartbreak, intrigue, and so on? I think so, certainly the ending seemed indicative of that, as well as the callbacks to the very beginning of the series with Jacques de Molay, and the frequent comparisons of characters to the Iron King as well.
I found it a mite difficult to invest in a lot of the new intrigues, particularly in England, but was hooked as ever on returning characters. Lines like “At the memory of his weaknesses, every man tends to reassure himself by staring at his own face, forgetting that the signs of strength he detects in it impress only himself, and that it was before others that he showed weakness” and “At moments she had hated him, hated him for existing and for having passed through her life like a tempestuous wind through a house with open doors; and then she had immediately reproached herself for the thought as if it were a blasphemy” were always a pleasure. Druon perhaps pushed the dramatic irony a tad too hard at times, but it felt in service to the story.
The third act tightening in to question the divine right of kings and length of relationships felt earned. It’s a book of reframing, questioning earlier acts, from seeing events reframed from different characters points of view (Isabella, Bouville) to explicit questioning in the text (which doesn’t go well for Edward II). I didn’t find it as compelling as the last book with its great tragedies, but still, an enjoyable read. I give it three treaties, and a blood-brotherhood.