Mini classic review: The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

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 despised men who accepted their fate. I shaped mine twenty times and had it broken twenty times in my hands.” 

Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles is praised as one of the best historical works in fiction by authors and readers alike, and her sharp-tongued rogue of a main character, Lymond, has inspired countless brooding heroes across genres. There’s even a Reddit thread about Lymond’s influence on other characters and works.

I initially wanted to read this classic because my favourite author, C.S. Pacat, labels the Lymond Chronicles as her favourite books of all time and that Lymond highly inspired her own main character, Laurent in the Captive Prince series. And in reading this book, I can 100% see that inspiration: Laurent is a carbon copy of Lymond — extremely quick-witted, pretty, insolent, has their own weird sense of morals, and exceedingly brave and loyal.

I adored Lymond from start to finish. He is so charming and messy and just plain fun. He gets into so many misadventures that he somehow barely manages to escape because he’s 10 steps ahead of everyone else, and playing a game they’re not even aware of. He has such a tense relationship with his family, especially his brother Richard, who all believe he committed treason six years prior to the beginning of the novel. I am so fascinated by his relationship with Richard: they try to kill each other multiple times in the book (these are not half-hearted attempts, these are genuine attempts at murder), but they come to an understanding near the end of the novel that is so genuine, realistic and warming. One of my favourite ‘tropes’ (if you can call it that) in fiction is terse sibling relationships.

What I was so impressed by is Dorothy Dunnett’s ability to write such fantastic, rich and complex female characters. Maybe you’re confused by my surprise but this book was published in 1961, around the same times books by prolific authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Mary Renault, were being published where you would have to strain your eyes to find even a semblance of a well-written female character (no hate, I love both of these authors).

I loved The Game of Kings so much more than I thought I would. The book starts off a little slow, but picks up very quickly and doesn’t let up until the very end. I’m very keen to read the rest of the books in the series now.

3 thoughts on “Mini classic review: The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

  1. ming85 says:

    Oooh this is making me very excited to finally read her work! I had put her on my list for exactly the same reason as you, and the description of the main character sounds very fulfilling on that promise!! Thank you for this very excellent review!

    Liked by 1 person

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