The Game Of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
I reported on my experiences about reading the first half of The Game of Kings, the first volume in Dorothy Dunnett’s saga of 16th century life in the Scottish border country, here. A month later I’ve finished the book and thus the first leg of my plans to read the series. You’ll be glad to know at the outset that I plan to carry on, but first some closing thoughts about Book 1 of the Lymond Chronicles…
During the first half, although I immediately enjoyed the derring-do of the errant Master of Culter, I did let myself get slightly bogged down in looking things up – all the foreign phrases, good Scottish dialect and cultural references from history, myths and legends through the ages.
I read the second half in a totally way – I just went for it, didn’t look anything up. Teresa had suggested to me that this was the best way for a first reading. You were right Teresa – total immersion made it great fun.
The second half starts with much politicking, bargaining, and plans for hostage taking and exchanging. Young Will Scott is toying with the idea of handing over Lymond to his estranged father after a falling out.
Scott’s reply was inaudible, and Lymond walked straight up to the boy. His riding clothes, swiftly tended since he had come from Tantallon, were sartorial perfection, his hair shone like glass and his voice glittered to match. He was impeccably, unpleasantly sober.
‘You have my warmest good wishes for any urgent need you may discover to injure me, personally. Just try it…’
I love the phrase ‘impeccably, unpleasantly sober’, so evocative.
Soon Lymond is again toying with the affections of his brother’s wife, Mariotta – who is promptly left by Richard and goes to the convent, from whence she is rescued by Lymond’s mother Sybilla…
There she found herself in the embarrassing position of the social suicide who wakes up after the laudanum: the skies had fallen and had done nothing but add to the general obscurity.
It’s sentences and phrases like the quotes above that I find really attractive in Dunnett’s writing. However, sometimes I can do without the ‘listiness’ – one of my literary bugbears that makes me shout ‘Get on with it!’ in my head; take this quote for example, in which Will Scott and Lymond are arguing again …
‘I’m tired of a landscape with dragons,’ said Scott violently.
‘What, then? Retreat underground into hebetude; retreat under water like a swallow; retreat into a shell like a mollusc; retreat into the firmament like some erroneous dew….’
See what I mean? By the way, I looked up ‘hebetude‘ – it means dullness or lethargy, and apparently is a word much beloved by Joseph Conrad, so there.
However, Dunnett does have a sense of humour, and a tendency to listiness and hyperbole is one of Lymond’s show-off qualities. He does it again with Gideon Somerville, an Englishman who proves invaluable to his cause…
‘The Scot, the Frencheman, the Pope and heresie, overcommed by Trothe have had a fall. Again yes.’
‘I wish to God,’ said Gideon with mild exasperation, ‘that you’d talk – just once – in prose like other people.’
That made me laugh!
I so enjoyed the second half of this novel, that I was really shocked when my favourite character from the first part, (apart from Lymond of course), came to an unfortunate end. (Don’t read my prior post if you don’t want to find out who it was).
The Game of Kings ends with Lymond being caught and hauled back to Edinburgh to stand trial for treason, and we finally find out why he was considered a treacherous renegade. A fabulous court scene provides a fitting end to the book. Naturally – as there are six books in the series, you can safely assume that he gets off to live another day. (9/10)
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As you can guess from my enthusiastic reading of the first volume, I have become hooked into reading the rest of this series. The books are densely written, and are all between four and five hundred pages, so I intend to carry on at the same rate of half a book per month which will take me up to the end of November.
So onwards with Queens Play, which sees Francis Lymond off to France to look after the young Queen at the court of Henri II.
I’ll report back on the first half in mid-Feb, and the second mid-March. I’m looking forward to it, and if any of you want to join in, you’re very welcome. I’ll make a Who’s Who bookmark again in the next few days. I found the one I made for The Game of Kings very useful.
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I inherited my copy. To explore on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Game Of Kingsand Queens’ Play by Dorothy Dunnett. (affiliate links)
0 thoughts on “Losing myself in the Lymond Chronicles”
I’m so glad my suggestion was useful. I had every intention of taking a different approach on my reread and actually look stuff up, but I ended up getting so absorbed that I couldn’t. I had forgotten a lot of the story–it’s been about 15 years since I read the Lymond books–so even on this second read some of the reversals and surprises left me breathless. And that exchange with Gideon is priceless! I do love the Somervilles.
At about 3/4 of the way through I gave up trying to remember the factions and shifting allegiances and just went with the flow! I’m hoping the Somervilles will continue to play a part – makes up a bit for the demise of Christian.
Looking forward to starting QP in a week or two.
I am impeccably, unpleasantly sober as I read your article here at work.
I’m so glad you enjoyed this and are planning to read the rest of the series! I think you made the right decision not to continue trying to look everything up. When I read it last year I realised I was never going to be able to understand all the references on a first read, so I just concentrated on the story instead and like you, found it was more fun that way. Good luck with Queens’ Play – I’ll look forward to seeing your thoughts on it!
Helen, I’m impressed that you’re up to vol VIII in the Niccolo … I’m a mere beginner in the Dunnett-world, but I so enjoyed my first visit, I am definitely conitnuing. I think it was probably a good idea to get my idea of looking everything up as I went out of the way early – it would have really got in the way, for a first reading, certainly.
Congratulations on entering the world of Lymond!! Francis is such a wonderful character, surrounded by such real and present dangers and written with panache and palaver by Dunnett. I wish I was just starting on the journey with him again! I’ve read the series half a dozen times at least and her other “House of Niccolo” series as well. I always recommend them most highly. Smart, funny, heart-wrenching, there’s so much humanity and wonder if those books!
“humanity and wonder” – what a great way to describe the incomparable Lymond series. I have been re-reading these novels for 30 years (quite obsessed) and I have only just purchased the Elspeth Morrison companion books so you can see that I have always read the story for its delights (and shocks) and did not worry about looking up words or classical allusions I was not familiar with. I still discover occasional hidden gems, even on what must be a 20th re-reading!
I’m glad to be hooked. Francis is irresistible! He has so many facets, not least the fact that he could be a 16thC James Bond (love that idea).
Having done some Latin and loving ancient myths and legends, I’m not totally lost with all the classical allusions, it’s the Scottish stuff like the Battle of Pinkie I struggled with initially.
I love that ‘his voice glittered to match’. Lymond – capable of speaking with words that cut the air like knives. To be frank, if we writers used such a phrase today we would be struck down by critics. But Dunnett proves time and again that language is there to be used and used brilliantly.
Her language matches the characters which is the really brilliant thing. (I can even forgive the listiness, as it’s always Lymond that does it!)