The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnet

The Game of KingsThe Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
Series: The Lymond Chronicles #1
Publication Date: April 1, 1961
Pages: 543
Genre: historical fiction
Project: a century of women

Dunnett introduces her irresistible hero Francis Crawford of Lymond, a scapegrace nobleman of elastic morals and dangerous talents whose tongue is as sharp as his rapier. In 1547 Lymond is returning to his native Scotland, which is threatened by an English invasion. Accused of treason, Lymond leads a band of outlaws in a desperate race to redeem his reputation and save his land.

I read this as a buddy read in January, and it has stayed with me for a considerable time since I finished. It was really something of a tour de force, and I’m still certain that I missed a significant percentage of the plot, and even more of the literary, historical and linguistic allusions.

I really did enjoy this book, and will definitely read on in the series. Dunnett is a fearless writer – she didn’t hesitate to put her characters (all of them) through a series of trials, some of which were downright awful. She killed off one character of whom I was extremely fond. I was, and still am, shocked at the almost casual speed of that particular death.

Someone else mentioned the women characters and how wonderfully well-rounded they were. I totally agree. I loved Lady Sybilla, especially at the end.

Dunnett also very much respected the intellect of her readers (maybe sometimes too much, from my perspective, ha). She packed the book with nuggets for the discerning reader to find. I’m sure that I missed a lot of them. She also just takes off with the story and proceeds apace, reaching a breakneck speed toward the end, when the revelations and the action are flying.

The final reveal wasn’t particularly shocking to me – I think that she had set it up throughout the course of the book so that it was pretty natural. This was really a swashbuckling adventure, and not a mystery, so she wasn’t so much trying to palm the ace as keep it away from the characters view for a while.

Of all of the characters, Lymond remains the most unclear to me. I still don’t feel like I have a real handle on who he is – he played so many parts that he almost doesn’t have a true identity. He is infinitely iinteresting, and I’d like to get to know him better.

I’m not sure when I will get to the next book, but I will get to the next book. This book got all of the stars from me, and I suspect I would enjoy it just as much on reread.


  1. I remember someone read this in our Deads Writers Society group and loved it and I’ve been wanting to read it since then. I have the first three books in the series but something always seems to come up to prevent me from reading it. But again, you remind me. I’m going to pull it out and put it on my bedside table. Then it just might happen. Thanks for the review!

  2. I’ve read and re-read the series since I first discovered Lymond when I was 18. (I’m 66 now, you do the math, haha!). If I was on a deserted island these are the books I’d choose to have with me. Keep reading the series – each book gives you another facet of the incredibly complex Francis Crawford.

  3. I see you haven’t continued this series yet, but I have to tell you it gets better and better. Lymond is supposed to be sort of a mystery. There’s always something going on that you don’t understand, and not all the threads are tied up until the last book. This book works best of all of them for a stand-alone, but it is also the most obscure, I think, probably because of all the archaic poetry. I think the others are easier to read.

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