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The Ringed Castle by Dorothy Dunnett
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The Ringed Castle (1971)

by Dorothy Dunnett

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To my mind, the best of the Lymond series after Game of Kings. It left me with a profound respect for John Chancellor of the Muscovy Company and even a sense of pity for Ivan the Terible. ( )
1 vote antiquary | Jan 24, 2013 |
After the heated intensity of Pawn in Frankincense, this fifth (and penultimate) volume of the Lymond Chronicles comes across as cool and subdued – which might be owing to it taking place in the more temperate climates of Russia and England instead of the sun-drenched Middle East of the previous novel. This does not mean, however, that The Ringed Castle is not an exciting novel, or that tension and emotions would not run high, quite to the contrary.

Things do start somewhat slowly, but that is a welcome breather after the events that concluded Pawn in Frankincense and which are likely to have left the reader reeling and possibly somewhat numb with shock, even several months after reading that novel. But while there is a distinct shift in mood, plotwise events pick up almost right where the previous novel ended, with Philippa returning home. She is even more of a presence here than in the preceding instalment, her narrative weight almost equal to Lymond’s, and at least to my taste, considerably less annoying. Although it has to be said that for the first time in the series I found Lymond neither cringe- nor eyeroll-inducing through the course of a whole novel – I am not sure whether by this volume Dorothy Dunnett has matured as a writer, or whether Lymond has matured as a character but his usual melodramatic histrionics seem to be completely absent from The Ringed Castle. But maybe I am just getting used to him…

Lymond is trying to wipe the slate of his life clean, break with his past and start over, and to that purpose he is moving as far away from everything he knows – and that knows him – as possible and beginning a career as military advisor to Tsar Ivan of Russia (also known to later generations as Ivan the Terrible). But of course his past will not stay quiet and will not let him rest, embroiling not only him but also Phillipa who at the same time is starting to begin her own life at the court of Queen Mary of England (also known to later generations as Bloody Mary). The story relentlessly gathers momentum as events unfold, and what began slowly ends in an action-packed, fast-moving finale that, if not quite as heart-wrenching as the ending of Pawn in Frankincense, ends on an almost tragic note that does not bode well at all for the next, concluding volume of the Lymond Chronicles.

The Ringed Castle, like the other volumes in the series, is a true historical novel: The characters are not modern people placed in front of a historical wallpaper to act out 20th century drama. Dunnett does not attempt to make her characters familiar, strictly refuses to give them motivations that our contemporary psychologies could relate to. Instead, they are steeped in their period, in and of their time, and Dorothy Dunnett throughout maintains a respectful distance towards them, showing us her protagonist Lymond never other than from an outside perspective, and taking care to keep some residue of opacity even for those characters from whose point of view she describes events – we might be as close to them as we ever get to anyone in the series, but they still grow never quite familiar, never wholly transparent to us. This is what gives the novels their occasionally elliptic feel, as if we readers were being withheld essential pieces of information and need to piece things together by ourselves. We are indeed missing something here, because we are not Renaissance men and women, and the author never lets us forget that.

Having accomplished this much would be quite enough of a feat for any author who of course is herself not contemporary to the Renaissance, but Dorothy Dunnett does not stop there, and what makes her writing (apart from its immense learning that yet never weakens the stunning beauty of it) truly astonishing is that even as she keeps her characters at a distance from the readers, she still manages to make us care for them (yes, even for annoying Lymond), to weave a plot that, even as we struggle to follow all its intricacies, makes us excited and lets our hearts beat faster, to move us with the fate of characters that, even as we struggle to comprehend what drives their actions, touches us and moves us to laughter and tears. Only very few writers of historical novels manage to appeal to our modern sensitivities without compromising on their representation of the past, but Dorothy Dunnett does so in unparalleled splendour and her Lymond Chronicles are a must-read for anyone even marginally interested in historical fiction and what it can achieve.
  Larou | Sep 10, 2012 |
At first this book seems to disconnect the 4th book from the final book Checkmate. My first reading was disappointing but on rereads I found it has a beauty all it's own.
Now the book splits the action between Moscow and Scotland and no I won't tell you in what order! As always Dunnett creates a real and well defined sense of location. Also now we are back to central theme of Lymond's gifts, where his talents belong and can Lymond live with his genius and/or grow into it.
Enjoy Russia! ( )
  ValLloyd | Sep 24, 2011 |
"Not to every young girl is it given to enter the harem of the Sultan of Turkey and return to her homeland a virgin." Now that's what I call an attention getting opening! The Ringed Castle begins book #5 in the series as Philippa returns home to England a very self assured young woman and Francis has hitched his wagon to the mysterious Guzel and heads to Russia to bring Tsar Ivan and his army out of the dark ages with the aid of Francis' highly trained mercenary corps.

As Francis treads the treacherous waters of the Russian court and political intrigues, there is a traitor amongst his troop who has been hired to kill him. At the same time, Philippa is called to court to serve as lady in waiting to Mary Tudor and the delightfully evil Countess Margaret Lennox continues her intrigues against Francis and Philippa. Eventually Francis is ordered by the Tsar to leave Russia, and after a harrowing sail through the dangerous waters of the northern seas Francis comes to London as part of Russia's trade embassy. There he is reunited with his wife, Philippa, who has stumbled across a long hidden mystery regarding Francis' paternity.

As with the first four books in the series, Francis Crawford is a fascinating hero, and is as suave, debonair, flawed and fascinating as only a 16th Century version of James Bond could be. While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I didn't find it as fast paced as the previous four, particularly the time spent in Russia, although necessary to set up the rest of the story. What I very much enjoyed was the maturation of Philippa and she has become the perfect foil for Lymond, she matched word for word in all their verbal battles and was the highlight of the book. I am dying to read the last book in the series, Checkmate: Sixth in the Legendary Lymond Chronicles and anxiously await the answers to just who fathered Francis Crawford of Lymond. ( )
  Misfit | May 12, 2009 |
While not as intense as Pawn in Frankincense (though I find myself at a loss to imagine what book could be), I still enjoyed this an awful lot. The sections in Russia dragged a bit for me, both because I didn't find the atmosphere/surroundings delineated as vividly as I'm used to in Dunnett's works, and because there was no foil to set Lymond against. Without someone to bitch worthwhile to pitch himself against, the... less amiable aspects of his character become even more defined, and things drag. Once Lymond and Phillipa were together again, though, it flew along at a cracking pace. Some of the twists made my eyes widen, and of course That One Scene with Lymond and Phillipa made me squeak out loud--much, I'm sure, to raised eyebrows from the people sitting around me on the Tube. Languish Locked in L, indeed.

The only downside to this is that my copy of Checkmate is back home, and I won't be leaving London til Saturday at the earliest. Oh, cruel, cruel. ( )
1 vote siriaeve | Feb 11, 2007 |
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Not to every young girl is it given to enter the harem of the Sultan of Turkey and return to her homeland a virgin.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679777474, Paperback)

For the first time Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles are available in the United States in quality paperback editions.

Fifth in the legendary Lymond Chronicles, The Ringed Castle leaps from Mary Tudor's England to the barbaric Russia of Ivan the Terrible. Francis Crawford of Lymond moves to Muscovy, where he becomes advisor and general to the half-mad tsar. Yet even as Lymond tries to civilize a court that is still frozen in the attitudes of the Middle Ages, forces in England conspire to enlist this infinitely useful man in their own schemes.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:55 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Francis Crawford leaves Scotland for Muscovy to become an advisor in the court of Ivan the Terrible, but forces at home hope to use him for their own ends.

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