Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Game of Kings (review)

by Dorothy Dunnett, 1961 
Lymond Chronicles, #1

Scotland, technically under the rule of a pre-school-aged Queen Mary, is ravaged by constant warfare. The regent of England hopes to carry off the Scottish Queen and eventually marry her to England’s own boy king, Edward VI. Nobles on both sides shift allegiance with the tide of battle (many Scotsman are even forced to request permission from their own side to offer insincere fealty to the English, and must then juggle their duel-status in hopes of preserving some shreds of their estates). Throughout these tides of warfare, an outlawed, dashing figure runs amok. His name is Culter of Lymond. Believed to be a traitor to Scotland, he is pursued with hatred by both sides, and appears to serve only himself while making fools of everyone else. He is an anti-hero with a vocabulary to rival any character in literature, and a gift of oratory that might silence Lord Peter Wimsey himself. In fact, he is in some ways what Lord Peter might have been, had his lordship been born in the age of the sword instead of that of the machine gun.

Mary eventually wed the 
prince of France,
not the king of England.
Word-lovers will revel in the language of this tale. It is definitely a swashbuckler: constant adventure, topsy-turvy shifts of fate, disguises, repartee, and intrigue, all staged among a wide cast of vivid individuals. I myself appreciate the author’s deft handling of her characters. Many of them could easily have been stereotypical, single-dimensional, and annoying; and yet they all manage to come across as eminently human and almost universally sympathetic. This is fortunate, since otherwise, the constant adventure might have been too much for me. As Edith Nesbit’s Oswald Bastable would say, this book is a ripping good yarn. 


  1. This sounds so amazing, I ordered a used copy. My library annoyingly doesn't have a single book in the series. Hmph.

    1. I'd love to hear what you think of it! I haven't read any of the others in the series, but it's nice to know that they exist-- they will make good travel reading someday.

  2. This looks really interesting. I have a hard time finding good historical fiction, so thanks for the review!!


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