The Game of Kings, Book one of the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett- Book review and discussion

What can be better than reading Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett in Stirling? Read my review of the first book in the Lymond Chronicles.

Series review here.


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

The Game of Kings,Dorothy Dunnett

I have seen the first book of the Lymond chronicles compared to the Game of Thrones and it is easy to see why but The Game of Kings is so much more- you just have to get the first few chapters to get there. I gave up after the third chapter and only picked the book up again when I literally had nothing else on hand to read but so glad I did.

The story is set in a turbulent time in English and Scottish history- the decade before Elizabeth and Mary take up their thrones. Francis Lymond, the Master of Culter, the disgraced, second son of a noble family and traitor has returned to his homeland of Scotland and is on a mission.

Even though Lymond is the hero or more accurately anti-hero, we never read the book from his perspective but we learn about him through the eyes of the people around him and as their perception changes, so does ours. The author does this so well that I didn’t realise that I hadn’t read a single direct thought of Francis till the end of the book. Lymond almost seems too good to be true- good looking, a skilled fighter and leader, clever, fluent in many languages but we share his brother’s, friends’, allies’ and enemies’ frustration as Lymond is a hard person to like especially at the start of the book. His motives are murky and he knows how to use his charm and sensuality to achieve his goals, for example, poor Will, what was he expecting when he followed Lymond up the stairs in that Inn.

The author uses real, historical characters alongside fictional characters and you can lose yourself in her description of the locations and what life must have been like in those times-the complicated and fragile political situation that can suddenly change depending on whether a particular message made it to the right person.  As a former fencer, the scene where Lymond is engaged in a duel with swords is still one of the best scenes I have ever read.

The plot is difficult to follow at the start of the book but when after the first few chapters are done the prose is easier and the story-telling becomes more conventional and it becomes clear what  Lymond is trying to achieve.

The women in this book are strong and formidable in a way that seems appropriate to the period and Sybil, Crawford’s mother is just as Machiavellian as he is.

The last chapter eventually satisfyingly makes sense of it all but made me look at previous chapters in a different light.

The book can be read by itself but the threads that run through the series are first planted here. The physical differences between Lymond and his brother Richard, Lymond’s true age, the mystery of what actually happened before he returned are introduced here and will be revealed through the course of the series.

The first few chapters are a mixture of poetry, different languages and weirdness( there is a drunk pig running riot) that takes time to truly appreciate but don’t give up on one of the best heroes ever written.

I wish to God,” said Gideon with mild exasperation, “that you’d talk—just once—in prose like other people.

The Game of Kings, Dorothy Dunnett

2 thoughts on “The Game of Kings, Book one of the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett- Book review and discussion

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