Checkmate: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★★

The Lymond Chronicles: Book VI

In the last half an hour, traversing the final few chapters of the book, my emotions have been masterfully manipulated. I’ve swerved from denial to triumph, followed by shocked immobility, and then a cool, tingling spread of realisation; finally, I have to admit, I actually cried (mainly with relief). I should say, first and foremost, that if you have any intention of reading this series – and by God, if you enjoy good books you should – then you shouldn’t read this post. There is no way on earth that I can write this without spoilers. So stop reading this now and, for goodness sake, go buy the first book and start the series for yourself!

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The Ringed Castle: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★

The Lymond Chronicles: Book V

My head is spinning: I am now so close to the end of the series that I find myself galloping along, devouring the book whenever I have a few minutes.  I’ve been reading at ramming speed – and I have such a compulsion to find out what happens that I’m afraid I may have missed some of the finer points.

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Pawn in Frankincense: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★★

The Lymond Chronicles: Book IV

After my reservations about The Disorderly Knights, I felt some anxiety as I embarked on Pawn in Frankincense, the fourth book in the Lymond Chronicles. However, there is very little to find fault with here: it is a magnificent novel, richer and more powerful than any of its predecessors in the series. I found it interesting to compare it to Queens’ Play, which I also enjoyed, for very different reasons. While Queens’ Play takes place in a small area of France, Pawn in Frankincense unfurls across the breadth of Europe and North Africa, embracing Switzerland, France, Algiers, Djerba and then Constantinople, the greatest and most dazzling city of all.

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The Disorderly Knights (1966): Dorothy Dunnett

★★★

The Lymond Chronicles: Book III

And so, from the tumbling moors and hills of Scotland, and the stately, chivalric glitter of Blois, we come to Malta, to the sand and dust and bleached blue skies. This third volume in the Lymond Chronicles is a strange beast: after Queens’ Play, which I enjoyed immensely – with its strong, stand-alone story and its clear sense of purpose for Lymond – I feel much more ambivalent about The Disorderly Knights. I know this series well enough by now, and I trust Dunnett enough as a writer, to believe that it all has a purpose. But there were points, especially in the first half of this book, where my faith faltered. In time, when I have read the following books and better understand the foundations being laid here, I am sure I will fully appreciate her decisions; they just left me feeling a little lost at times.

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Queens’ Play (1964): Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★½

The Lymond Chronicles: Book II

It is 1550, two years after the events in The Game of Kings. Mary of Guise plans a journey to France, to visit her eight-year-old daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, who is being brought up at Henri II’s court as the affianced bride of the Dauphin. The fate of Scotland depends on the fate of this little girl and Mary of Guise fears that the vultures have grown more daring. She calls on Lymond (now restored to favour) to accompany her to France and unearth any plots against the little Queen.

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The Game of Kings (1961): Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★

The Lymond Chronicles: Book I

It is Scotland, in the 1540s. Edward VI is on the throne in England, the realm governed by his Protectors. In Edinburgh, Mary of Guise rules as regent for her infant daughter, later to become Mary Queen of Scots. The vultures, French and English, gather around the little queen, hoping to benefit from her marriage, while the Scottish lords beat back wave after wave of concerted English invasion. Into this political powder-keg comes Francis Crawford of Lymond: nobleman, wit, exile and ex-galley-slave, determined to prove himself innocent of a six-year-old charge of treason.  ‘Lymond is back,’ says the first line of the book; and the game can begin.

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In praise of Dorothy Dunnett

Dorothy Dunnett

I’d never heard of Dorothy Dunnett until one afternoon when I was in the library, seeking out my next stash of books.  Methodically going through the racks, I stumbled across The Spring of the Ram, the second book in her House of Niccolò series.  Although I don’t like reading series out of order, the first book was nowhere to be found in the library and there was a synopsis at the start of The Spring of the Ram.  I took it home and, very shortly, was absolutely hooked.

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