If you decide to tackle the The Lymond Chronicles and Dorothy Dunnett’s brilliant writing, you won’t be disappointed. I have read the full series three times over and the first book more than double that. I read them late into the night, first thing in the morning, in the car at stoplights, and under my desk at work. Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked!
Producers of the new Poldark series have optioned the rights to The Lymond Chronicles for a television series. Fingers crossed!
From Compulsive Overreader:
These books are absolutely fan-freakin’-tastic. They follow the adventures of a sixteenth-century Scottish nobleman … Francis Crawford (usually just known as Lymond), younger son of a titled family, in the turbulent years when Mary, Queen of Scots was a child being raised in France while the crown of England was passing in rapid succession through each of Henry VIII’s children (the series ends with Elizabeth I’s accession to the English throne). Conflict between Scotland and her unfriendly neighbour to the south forms the setting of the first book, The Game of Kings, and remains a constant concern. But the scope of these books, which cover a period of a little over ten years, ranges far beyond the British Isles. Lymond is sometimes a mercenary, sometimes a spy, sometimes a courtier, and always in trouble. His travels take him to France, to Malta, to Turkey and to Russia as well as to England, with stops back home in Scotland throughout the series. Dunnett’s detailed historical research shines through as she brings to life scenes from a far wider variety of countries than readers usually get to visit in the standard Tudor/Elizabethan historical novels. Yes, interesting things were happening in places far from Britain, and if you travel with Lymond, you’ll be plunged right into the middle of them.
You’ll also travel in the company of one of the most fascinating, infuriating heroes in any book I’ve ever read. Lymond is both hero and anti-hero. He bursts into the first book as an outlaw determined to clear his name of the various crimes of which he’s accused, and starts his campaign in a not particularly promising way by attacking his family castle, shooting an innocent (female) bystander, and then setting fire to the castle while his mother (not to mention numerous other people)is inside. At this point readers can be forgiven for thinking, “Wait … is this the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for?”
Lymond does a lot of unpleasant things, and not just in the first few chapters — throughout the whole series. It’s safe to say that most of the awful things he does are eventually revealed to be: a) not as awful as they originally seemed, b) totally justified, or c) actually a complete misdirection. But there is a d) category of things he does that are still kind of unforgiveable, just because he’s a complicated guy living in complicated times.
And wow, is he ever complicated. Still a very young man when the series begins, Francis Crawford of Lymond is good at everything — he’s a brilliant soldier and military strategist, a formidable athlete, a gifted musician, a widely-read and erudite man who speaks seven or eight languages and can quote poetry and toss off sarcastic comments in all of them. He’s smart, he’s accomplished, he’s funny — but of course he’s also tortured by inner demons, and the shadows that haunt him only get darker as the series goes on. Dorothy Dunnett long predates George R.R. Martin in her willingness not only to kill off key characters, but to allow the characters who survive to suffer unspeakable torments. And nobody suffers more than Lymond.
That’s not to say the books are perfect, or that every reader will love them. I found The Game of Kings very hard to get into for the first couple of hundred pages: Dunnett’s writing is dense, layered, thick with allusions (and no pandering to the reader with explanations, translations or footnotes!). Things often happen that aren’t at all clear to the reader at the time, but will be explained later, if you can just hang on for three hundred pages. By the end of the first book I was well and truly hooked, but it wasn’t till partway through the second book, Queen’s Play (Lymond in France! And in disguise! And in mortal peril!) that I began to fully trust Dunnett and believe that everything I was confused about would eventually be explained to me. These books reward patience and careful reading; they are a swashbuckling adventure series for bookworms and people who get drunk on words. While there were passages in each book that moved slowly, weighted down by pages of loving description, there were also places in every book (usually near the end) when I could not go to sleep until I’d stayed awake, heart pounding, to turn the last page and see how things worked out.
Link to the rest at Compulsive Overreader