Conceived as the end of the series (a seventh book of sorts would come seventeen years later, but this was certainly intended as the ending when it was written), “The Lily and the Lion” brings very definitive conclusions to all the surviving principal characters of the series, and the titular premise of the series itself. It has a sense of focus and purpose some of the earlier books lacked, and Druon feels very much in control as he brings everything to a close.
The widening of scope to other nations in earlier books felt distracting at times, but here it serves its purpose well, as displacing French concerns and characters into other nations invites the sort of melancholy self-reflection so much of the book is steeped in. There’s a feeling of a sort of cosmic intention, as the weight of history comes to bear down on characters directly, instead of just in footnotes or occasional asides by Druon.
“For Roger Mortimer, who was only forty-five, death would not come itself. He felt vaguely troubled when he looked towards the centre of the Green, where the block usually stood. But you become accustomed to the nearness of death by a whole series of simple thoughts that add up in the end to no more than a weary melancholy. It occurred to Mortimer that the sly raven would live on after him, and would tease other prisoners; the rats, too, would go on living, those big wet rats that emerged at night from the muddy banks of the Thames to run about the stones of the fortress; and even the flea that was irritating him under his shirt would jump onto the executioner the day of his death and go on living. Every life that is wiped from the world leaves the other lives intact. There is nothing so ordinary as death.”
Death and the turn of history are so central to the book, and that chain of thought by Mortimer encapsulates it so well. Druon brings France down from such strength and glory, but what’s to come is no secret. It’s that transitional phase that feels ordained. Jacques de Molay’s curse was sidelined for a lot of the series, but here it feels not just magic, self-fulfilling, a fortunate guess, but like something imbued with cosmic knowledge all the history that was to come.
Ending the book proper on Robert felt appropriate. One of the few main characters from the first book still around, one so central to the series, one so beloved by Druon, it felt right to end the main thrust of the book with him. Ending the epilogue essentially on the Guccio and Marie storyline, the heart of the series, felt earned and proper as well. Everything felt earned in this book. A great conclusion. I give it four forged seals, and a hollow king.