The Ringed Castle by Dorothy Dunnett- Book review

The fifth instalment in the Lymond Chronicles has a restrained Lymond trying to influence change in Russia, in The Ringed Castle, historical fiction by Dorothy Dunnett.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Series: The Lymond Chronicles ( Review my series review here)

Lymond escapes to Russia with Guzel after the tragic chess game in Pawn Of Frankincense. Lymond and Guzel want to influence the Tsar in dragging Russia into modern times. Unfortunately, no matter how much he tries, Lymond can’t escape the people he left behind in England and Scotland, both family and foe, and finds his life in danger in the depths of Russia.

 Book Review

“Not to every young girl is it given to enter the harem of the Sultan of Turkey and return to her homeland a virgin.”

I have to make a confession- this is not one of my favourite books. I’m not sure why- it has everything I have come to expect from Dorothy Dunnett. Perhaps, this would be true of any book that comes after Pawn in Frankincense. But when I read this again recently, I found there is so much to like yet it remains my least favourite book in the series.

This is the book where Phillipa truly come into her own. She realises her own strength in Queen Mary’s court discovering her own influence and power independent of Lymond. She returns to England and shocks everyone with her announcement that she is now married to Francis but surprisingly everyone is quick to accept this is a temporary state of affairs. Phillipa is a Somerville and can’t help but heal the rift between Sybilla and Francis by digging into his parentage but uncovers some unpleasant truths.

Francis is more restrained in Ringed Castle, the exuberant character from the Game of Kings seems to be battered by the events of the last book. I could understand his need to run away from his ties and his fear that Madame de Doubtance prophecy of his father’s sons never meeting may come true. His relationship with Guzel appears to be perfect- a meeting between two people who have their share of hardship and abuse but with ambitions of changing the world. But an encounter with Phillipa reveals the uncomfortable truth- he has fallen in love with his wife. His fledgling friendship with Diccon Chancellor is cruelly dashed by circumstances beyond his control leaving him more adrift. Lymond spends most of the book sabotaging his other relationships including Richard and Kate. I found it very hard to like the Lymond in this book as he hurts every single person who cares for him. and could understand why Richard punched him when Lymond refused to accept his help. It helps that we get to read more about Francis from his point of view but as usual Francis’s story is told from other people’s point of view.

“And deep within him, missing its accustomed tread, his heart paused, and gave one single stroke, as if on an anvil.”

Dorothy’s prose describes the cold, bleak landscape of Russia and the differences between this land and the rest of Europe. Lymond tries his best to change Russia with a few of his men from St Marys but you know this is perhaps too much even for Lymond. The fights and action in the book are breathtaking as usual especially the one between Lymond and Prince Vyshnevetsky at the Lymond’s house which is one of the best fight scenes I have read.

People obsessed with Lymond

What happened between Lymond and Margaret Lennox to make her hate him so much? She continues to plague him even when he is in Russia. The Tsar of Russia also has an unhealthy attachment to Lymond even as he tries to kill him.

Woman in the Lymond Chronicles

Philippa is no longer the stubborn, independent young girl of the previous books. She has surpassed her mother Kate in Queen Mary’s court but ends up a pawn in Margaret Lennox game against Lymond.

Dependable Kate makes an appearance but unfortunately, her friendship with Lymond is strained by his recent actions and the strange new relationship they find themselves in.

Poor Sybilla- the once-close relationship with her favourite son appears to be irreversibly damaged.

Ongoing story arc

The story behind Lymond’s parentage takes central stage in all its murky glory. We get various versions of who Lymond’s parents are but one thing is true- we discover Richard and Lymond are half-brothers when Dame de Doubtance’s prediction fails to come true.

Lymond’s Health Count ( How is he is still standing?)

“He can make you want to knock him down, if he feels like it, by simply saying “good morning”. He possibly said simply “good morning” to Lord Culter. The difference was that, being his brother, Culter hit him.”


Lymond is a little luckier in this book and Dunnett inflicts less damage on him- he is knocked out by a punch, extreme fatigue by swimming and another superficial knife injury. But in this book, we can see the mental toll past events have had on him. He continues to have the most literal of blinding headaches.


A sombre instalment in the series reflecting Lymond’s state of mind but is worth reading to watch Phillipa blossom into a formidable woman. This is not the book to read if you are new to the series.

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