At one point in my life, I decided to give up working for a while and have babies with my husband. That entailed selling my house in Banbury, moving up to Manchester and changing all the boring legal stuff, house titles, insurance documents. You get the picture. Tedious stuff.
That was when I discovered Dorothy Dunnett. I had come across her name before, but when I tried the first book in the Lymond Chronicles, “The Game of Kings,” I couldn’t get through it. It is difficult, dense reading, but it was the first book she ever wrote, and it’s worth struggling through it because there is a feast waiting for you.
I raced through the six books of the Chronicles and when I finished, I started again.
Dunnett writes like nobody else I’ve ever come across. Her central character, the Scottish Francis Crawford of Lymond, is seen by his family, friends and enemies. You rarely get a passage in Lymond’s point of view. But you will never read a more lively, exciting, sexy or dangerous man anywhere else. “Lymond, the only hero you’ll ever need.”
He’s a musician, a poet, a mathematician and one of the best fighting men of his age. He’s an adventurer, and a planner, handsome and lethal. You will never forget him, I guarantee it.
The books are set in the first part of the sixteenth century, and the settings range from Scotland, to France, Turkey, Malta, England, Russia and everywhere in between. She depicts the Regent of France, Mary of Guise, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth Tudor, Ivan the Terrible and countless others, as well as her own brilliant creations, who meld seamlessly with the historical characters.
Her style is rich, full of references, some obscure ones but you don’t have to know them to enjoy the books. Read it through fast the first time, then you can have a leisurely read, and enjoy the language.
Lucent and delicate, Drama entered, mincing like a cat
Lymond to Christian Stewart
‘This of course, is the chamber of devils, who sit in hexagon babbling like herring gulls about the ruin of charity and the disorderly rupture of souls…
Christian to Lymond
‘I am an architect in lexicography; I can build you a palace of adverbs and a hermitage of personal pronouns…
The building, always derelict, had a sullen air, as if in the emptying the last, lingering kindness had been wrung from the stones.
Lymond sat in the broken hall, and by him stood Johnnie Bullo…
Will Scott stalked forward prepared to get full value from the wrath boiling in his veins, and met the wall of Lymond at his worst.
When you first meet Lymond, he is entering Scotland illegally, a convicted felon who has just spent four years on the galleys. Then after half-killing an official, he sets fire to his mother’s castle – with his mother still in it.
At this point, you’re hating him, I can almost guarantee it. But have faith – there is reason in everything he does, good reason. And Lymond’s story is told by some of the most vivid, most interesting and sympathetic characters you will ever meet anywhere. The blind but far from helpless Christian Stewart, who understands him as few other people do. His brother Richard, Baron (later Earl) Culter. His mother, the sainted Sybilla – or is she?
By the end of the first book, you are with Lymond for the rest of his journey. You think you understand him, but then you’re plunged into the middle of French court intrigue, and after that, you meet Lymond’s deadly enemy Gabriel, the beautiful man who seduces everyone except Francis to his cause. By then you trust him.
And let’s not forget the action. The first book, “The Game of Kings” has the best sword fight I’ve ever read – and I’ve read “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Dr. Syn” and “Scaramouche.” The rooftop race, the escape across the desert and the various battles Lymond takes part in are vivid and exciting. The romance, and there is more than one, is breathtaking.
Historical accuracy? It almost goes without saying. Lady Dunnett thoroughly absorbed her research and then she wrote. You live and breathe the sixteenth century while you read these books, the Europe of Henry VIII and the corrupt French court, the Russia of Ivan the Terrible, the Far East of the Ottoman court at its height.
Get the books. Read them. Don’t give up at the start, get through that first book and then sit back and hold on. You’re in for one hell of a ride.
The Lymond Chronicles are:
The Game of Kings
The Disorderly Knights
Pawn in Frankincense
The Ringed Castle
And here’s how it all starts:
“Lymond is back.”
It was known soon after the Sea-Catte reached Scotland from Campvere with an illicit cargo and a man she should not have carried.
“Lymond is in Scotland.”
It was said by busy men preparing for war against England, with contempt, with disgust; with a side-slipping look at one of their number. “I hear the Lord Culter’s young brother is back.” Only sometimes a woman’s voice would say it with a different note, and then laugh a little.
Lymond’s own men had known he was coming. Waiting for him in Edinburgh they wondered briefly, without concern, how he proposed to penetrate a walled city to reach them.
I’m always hearing “Oh yes, I keep meaning to read those.” Don’t put it off any longer. You can’t afford to. Tomorrow you might get knocked down by a bus, and it would be a real tragedy if you hadn’t read The Lymond Chronicles first.