They (mostly) don’t write ’em like this anymore! Dorothy Dunnett’s “The Game of Kings”
The Game of Kings is Dunnett’s first book in the six-volume “Lymond Chronicles.” It is the magnificent tale of Francis Crawford of Lymond, a noble, a spy, and in many ways a classic anti-hero. If I were casting him (and I do wish someone would because it would make an epic television series) he’d look like Jude Law or Ewan McGregor but behave like Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler. Lymond is an intriguing character, full of contradictions and his own peculiar code of morality and conduct. He is loved and hated (sometimes at the same time by the same person) with an intensity that burns off the page, and which I do not think we see too often in novels. God it is good!
The story begins with Lymond’s secret return to Scotland following a disgrace and treason that we do not fully understand for much of the novel. Its September 1547 and the eve of the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, one of several major battles between the Scots and English during the “rough wooing” of Henry VIII and later the Duke of Somerset to acquire the young Mary, Queen of Scots as a bride for the future Edward VI. It’s a period in history where the loyalties of many Scots nobles were divided. The English granted lands and titles to several in return for supporting the marriage of Queen Mary to Edward VI. At the same time, Mary’s mother Marie of Guise, Dowager Queen of Scotland, was negotiating with the French for support against the English, and for Mary’s betrothal to the Dauphin Francis, son of Henry II of France. Hence, the Game of Kings.
Most novels about Mary, Queen of Scots – including my work in progress – spend little time on the period between the battle of Pinkie in September 1547 and Mary’s departure to France a year later in August 1548. Dunnett navigates this time period in a way that gave me a fresh perspective on events during that time period and just how tense the political situation was in Scotland. Lymond’s quest to clear his name is set against the fascinating backdrop of battles and raids between the Scots and English, and the shifting loyalties of the Douglases, Lennoxes and other noble families. Margaret Douglas (daughter of Margaret Tudor) is particularly well-drawn as the duplicitous Countess of Lennox.
Lymond runs a band of outlaws, who are wonderful, colorful supporting characters. He is aided on the quiet by his mother, Sybilla, and a long-time family friend and quasi-love interest, Christian Stewart. He’s beset by English troops, his own brother and even his protegé, Will. Lymond does clear his name, and the complex plot with twists and turns is a thrilling read, full of drama, tension and surprise. You will stay up late reading til the end.
I have had this book in paperback on my shelf for years upon years, and when I opened it, I hated the old-fashioned typesetting and found it difficult to read, so downloaded it to my Kindle. So check the typeface and make sure you are happy with your paperback/hardback. It turns out I used the Kindle dictionary quite often and loved Dunnett’s masterful vocabulary, which is missing from so much contemporary fiction.
There are two other difficult things about this novel, both worth surmounting to enjoy it. First, there’s a plethora of Classic illusion that went over my little pedestrian head. There is a Dorothy Dunnett reader for this series, and I think I wish I’d purchased it –though it would have distracted me to stop and look up all the allusions. Second, it was written about 40-50 years ago and the style of fiction writing is a bit dated, compared with styles today. But the story is so good, you can, and should get past this.
Loved it. When you read it, stop by and let me know how you found it.
- An Epic Undertaking – the Lymond Saga by Dorothy Dunnett (adiscounttickettoeverywhere.wordpress.com)
- Saoirse Ronan To Play ‘Mary Queen Of Scots’ In Working Title Feature (deadline.com)
- The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnet (shereads.wordpress.com)
- The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett – Thoughts (astripedarchair.wordpress.com)
- BBAW: Recognizing Dorothy Dunnett (shelflove.wordpress.com)
- The Game of Kings (whatmeread.wordpress.com)
- Dorothy Dunnett’s website