The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (thoughts)
I honestly am not even certain how large my review backlog is right now, because for the first time since 2006 I stopped keeping track of the books I was reading. :o But rather than dwell on that, I thought I’d just dive right in!
I first heard about Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, which begin with The Game of Kings, from The Sleepless Reader. In fact, I think she mentioned them on Twitter before she wrote that post! Anyway, I’ve had them in the back of my mind for awhile now and so when I saw that they were available as ebooks from my library, I popped myself in line for the first one. By the time my place in the queue came up, I was in the middle of my reading slump & far more busy with life stuff, so I didn’t actually start reading it until two days before it was ready to expire. Which is how I found myself, the day before my trip to Mexico, more concerned with finishing the three hundred pages I had left of The Game of Kings than with, say, packing! Dunnett’s not the kind of author you can race through, either, so my rational side told me to just wait until later to finish, but I was thoroughly hooked. I ended up spending several happy hours that day curled up with Thistle and my nook, and ended up finishing it with a happy sigh only because I already had the second, The Queen’s Gambit, checked out from the library.
Yes, this is historical fiction (set in 16th century Scotland), but it’s certainly not typical of its genre. Imagine if Dorothy Sayers and Daphne du Maurier had a love child, who was then raised in Scotland by an elderly, overly erudite and slightly old-fashioned guardian and fed a steady diet of political history, medieval literature, and chess strategy, and grew up to write novels: the Lymond Chronicles might be the result. That is my longwinded way of saying I adore Dunnett and her writing and her far-too-clever-for-his-own-good Lymond. :D The Game of Kings opens with Lymond returning from exile, and follows his complicated strategies to regain his place in society (currently, he’s regarded as a traitor and blackguard) while interfering in the British/Scottish intrigues as much as possible. Along the way, there’s a gigantic cast of characters, who all manage to be memorable and human and deeply, deeply loveable. The plot is far more complicated than it ought to be, but even with my minimal knowledge of the time and politics, thanks to Dunnett’s magic, I was able to follow along easily and cheer whenever a real historical person has a cameo.
Having now read The Game of Kings, and adoring it as much as I did (Lymond has easily entered onto my short list of most crushable characters), I also understand why Alexis qualified her recommendation. This isn’t a book to pick up when you’re stressed out or feeling down and just need a quick escape. However, if you’re looking for an intellectual puzzle that keeps you on your toes that also contains a swashbuckling plot that will carry you along and characters so vivid you half expect them to come around for tea one day, do yourself a favour and track this down. I’m just thrilled to have discovered a new author with quite a backlist for me to explore. And with that, I think I’ll go begin Queen’s Play.