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Shared read of The Game of Kings, by Dorothy Dunnett

2016 Category Challenge

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Aug 31, 2016, 4:00pm Top

Welcome to our (rabbitprincess and japaul22's) shared read of The Game of Kings, the first book in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. Francis Crawford of Lymond is our protagonist, and 16th-century Scotland our setting. Henry VIII is king of England, and James V is king of Scotland—at least until he dies and leaves Mary, Queen of Scots, as his heir. With a female infant as the heir, there is great uncertainty. The English invade, hoping to wear down the Scots and get one of their own to marry Mary, and the French supply troops and firepower to help the Scots fight the English. This campaign is known (somewhat wryly) as the “Rough Wooing”.

This is an interesting historical period and one that I personally know very little about, at least from the Scottish side of things (Henry VIII is very amply documented). Therefore my summary above is very cramped and cursory ;)

If you've read the series before and fancy a reread, or if you want to share any interesting historical tidbits about the period or other books that cover this era in Scottish history, or you just like Scotland, come join us!

I'll leave you with an article I found from NPR: All the writers you love probably love Dorothy Dunnett

Aug 31, 2016, 4:07pm Top

I'll probably start after the long weekend. It will be the next book to enter my bus-book rotation (we'll see how THAT goes...).

Anyone who's enjoyed the Lymond Chronicles may also be interested in Nigel Tranter's trilogy about James V:

The Riven Realm
James V by the Grace of God
Rough Wooing

I haven't read it myself but have read his Robert the Bruce trilogy, which is very good.

Aug 31, 2016, 8:15pm Top

Thanks for starting this! I'm excited to read this, especially after a woman (sibyx) in Club Read has been reviewing this series very favorably. I thought her review of Game of Kings was potentially very helpful. She said that Dunnett sort of throws you into the story without a lot of set up and you figure out who's who and what's going on as you go. So I'm planning to be ready for that and not get frustrated.

I read both Antonia Fraser's nonfiction account of Mary Queen of Scots and Margaret George's Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles recently, both of which I loved, so I'm hoping that helps me out a bit while reading this.

After running out of Sharon Kay Penman books to read, I'm hoping Dunnett will fill that hole.

Aug 31, 2016, 9:21pm Top

Very good to know about the figuring things out as you go along! Perhaps a book best read at home then.

It will be interesting for me to read the fiction first and then the history. I think my mum has the Antonia Fraser book on her shelves. Will have to borrow it sometime.

Sep 1, 2016, 3:24am Top

I started this early and am about a hundred pages in, and she really throws you right in. So far, Francis Lymond reminds me of some of Georgette Heyer's heroes (Nick Beauvallet and Damerel spring to mind).
I also felt an immediate need for a Scots dictionary and have found one online: http://www.dsl.ac.uk/.
Lymond also quotes an amazing number of poems and songs, so I am seriously considering the purchase of the Dorothy Dunnett Companion.

Sep 1, 2016, 10:48pm Top

The Scottish dictionary will be very helpful! And your mentioning Georgette Heyer makes me think I should gamble on this book as a Christmas present for a friend who reads a lot of Heyers.

Sep 2, 2016, 4:33am Top

>6 rabbitprincess: Does your friend understand French, Italian, Spanish or Latin? There are lots of untranslated quotes to navigate. I also think some understanding of chess would be helpful with the chapter titles.

Sep 2, 2016, 8:06am Top

>7 MissWatson: Yes, she's fluent in French and took Latin all through university. Italian and Spanish may require a bit of figuring out, but I think she took some Spanish in school as well.

Sep 2, 2016, 8:42am Top

>8 rabbitprincess: Oh, they're close enough still to French and Latin, to my eye. I'm finding that googling the more obscure people and places distracts from reading.

Sep 4, 2016, 1:03pm Top

>9 MissWatson: I found the quotes distracting and difficult my first time reading this but was advised to just skim through them. If you continue the series, you will find that these passages decrease in number as it progresses.

Sep 4, 2016, 2:07pm Top

>10 leslie.98: that's good to know because I only have high school french (from 20 years ago)!

My two current books are going more slowly than I expected, and I need to finish one of them before starting this. Hopefully by mid-week!

Sep 5, 2016, 6:46am Top

>10 leslie.98: Oh, the quotes are the easy part, but I haven't quite sorted out those obscure Scots aristocrats flitting around court and scheming for or against the English.

Sep 7, 2016, 8:09pm Top

I started this book today and love the opening. It's funnier than I thought it would be and I already love Lymond.

From the first pages -

And, long since ashore with his men and his booty, Crawford of Lymond, man of wit and crooked felicities, bred to luxury and heir to a fortune, rode off serenely to Midculter to break into his new sister-in-law's castle.

Fantastic writing!

Sep 8, 2016, 3:07am Top

I have been wondering about the chess because I am not a player myself. Do our various characters stand for certain chessmen?

Sep 8, 2016, 9:55am Top

>14 MissWatson: If you look at the titles of the books in the series, you will see that they each feature a different chess piece. I can safely say without spoilers that the whole long story arc is like a chess game.

Edited: Sep 11, 2016, 1:01pm Top

I'm not sure I know chess well enough to make more than the most basic connections.

I'm reading on my kindle and am at about 20%. I got really confused about 75 pages in and went back to the beginning. I almost never do that, but it really helped and now I feel like I have a good grip of what's going on. I'm finding that I need to read in bigger chunks, though, to get in to the flow of the book.

Sep 11, 2016, 2:26pm Top

I'm really enjoying the writing so far, and the research lends heft to the story without bogging it down. My favourite part so far has been the bit with the pig. One question: Did the women in the sister-in-law's castle REALLY die?! I might not have been paying very close attention, but if they did, I am rather skeptical of Lymond for letting his mother suffer the same fate. Hoping there will be more context to explain the relationship between him and his mother to explain why he would take such a step.

Re the poetry and scraps in other languages, I think I'll take them at face value on this read, and then look up what they mean later or read some commentary, then reread some other time.

It was interesting yesterday to be starting Chapter 1, which begins with a battle on a Saturday, September 10... and yesterday was a Saturday, September 10. Great coincidence.

Sep 11, 2016, 5:33pm Top

I don't think they died. Kind of left that story hanging. But I definitely expect more exploration of Lymond's family dynamics.

Sep 11, 2016, 7:40pm Top

>18 japaul22: Update: Whew! They have survived. At least the Dowager and Mariotta have.

Sep 11, 2016, 7:58pm Top

Sep 13, 2016, 8:04am Top

I'm about a third of the way in, and I have to admit I'm not totally loving it. It seems like a lot of action without a lot of character development. It reminds me of Dumas in a good way, but then I think I should have just read one of his books that I haven't read yet! Oh well, on I go and maybe I'll change my mind before the end!

She does get points for the humor - it's a lot funnier than I thought it would be.

Sep 13, 2016, 5:22pm Top

Yes, I love the humourous tone of the narration! I'm enjoying the story when I'm actually sitting down and reading it, but RL is conspiring to make me restless and less likely to hunker down and read for extended periods.

Sep 15, 2016, 2:01pm Top

>22 rabbitprincess: I agree that it works better for me when I read a large chunk at a time. I've just passed the half way mark, so it will probably move quickly from here. I'm curious to see where things go with Lymond's character.

Sep 19, 2016, 7:43pm Top

How are you doing?

I'm almost done and will probably finish it tonight or tomorrow. I love the women in the book and have enjoyed the book, but it's not quite my kind of historical fiction - just a bit too much action. Though she is amazing at writing those action scenes, isn't she?

I'm not sure I'll continue the series, but I'm glad I'm reading this.

Sep 19, 2016, 9:57pm Top

I'm a bit stalled, mainly because I've been trying to clear away library books. Maybe I'll get some more in before bed. Or I will save it for the weekend, when I have a train trip planned. Four hours each way will be plenty of time for reading!

Sep 19, 2016, 10:14pm Top

I just finished the last book in the series a couple of weeks ago, I read them over an 8 year period as I found each book so full on and other LT reads got in the way. I loved this series, and I think it's worth continuing if only to find out how awesome the English girl, Philippa, becomes.
I follow a rather fun FB page, The Crawford of Lymond Appreciation Society, they post rather interesting historical stuff from the period, and also photos of some of the places Lymond travels to through the series. Pinterest also has a few Lymond/Dunnett boards.

Next year i'm planning to read her King Hereafter which is a doorstopper novel about Macbeth.

Sep 21, 2016, 6:21pm Top

Oh, I would be interested in reading King Hereafter!

Sep 21, 2016, 8:09pm Top

Almost at the end of the first part, The Play for Jonathan Crouch. Overall, I am enjoying this book, but it is taking me longer to read than anticipated. It is very meaty. I'm still getting a bit mixed up with some of the characters, but if I am ever confused, I just keep reading and the book usually helps me figure things out eventually.

I enjoyed Lady Herries' teenage flights of fancy as she imagines herself the heroine of a romance novel and casts the role of hero based on whoever's around. :)

Sep 21, 2016, 9:35pm Top

>27 leslie.98: I've started a group read discussion thread in the 2017 group - http://www.librarything.com/topic/233068

Edited: Sep 28, 2016, 5:06am Top

My vacation interrupted my reading, but I finally finished it. Things move a bit faster towards the end, and I had to go back several times to remind myself who is who and on which side.
I really enjoyed this, and Francis Lymond is right up my alley when it comes to conflicted heroes. However, I think her Scotsmen are extremely early adopters of all the luxuries newly available from the orient. And some of her literary references look anachronistic to me, so there's some follow-up reading waiting.


Edited: Oct 8, 2016, 3:34pm Top

I'm on Part 3, The Play for Samuel Harvey. The young Queen shows up a bit more in this part and it's making me think I should borrow my mum's copy of Mary Queen of Scots, by Antonia Fraser.

>26 avatiakh: I've met Philippa and am looking forward to seeing more of her!

I continue to enjoy how much of a role the ladies play and all the great lines they're given.

Also, my library has ordered a book called Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles: The Enigma of Francis Crawford, by Scott Richardson. It might be spoilery for the series as a whole, so I will probably not place a hold on it yet. Still, interesting!

Oct 9, 2016, 6:46am Top

>31 rabbitprincess: This looks interesting!

Oct 10, 2016, 5:07pm Top

>32 MissWatson: It's nice to see the series being revisited! Just realized that The Game of Kings is 55 years old this year.


I finished the book today! Hurrah! By the end I was much more firmly on the side of Team Lymond. The tension of the Assizes had me glued to the sofa for most of the afternoon, not wanting to put the book down until it was over. I must admit that for me, there was never much concern that Francis would actually die from that injury, given that there are five more books about him; nevertheless, it was an upsetting scene.

And I cried when Christian Stewart died. NOT ALLOWED! :(

Also, for some reason I kept picturing Wat Scott of Buccleuch as Anthony Stewart Head portraying Walter Eliot in Persuasion. I think it's the fact that both characters are named Sir Walter that's causing my mind's internal casting department to play tricks on me.

I will continue reading the series but will probably need a bit of a breather. Annoyingly, the library does NOT have a copy of the second book in the series, so I am probably going to HAVE to buy it! Darn! ;)

Oct 11, 2016, 4:02am Top

>33 rabbitprincess: Anthony Stewart Head? Strange, given that Austen's Sir Walter is such a mincing fop. I was imagining someone like Brian Blessed, as in Branagh's Hamlet and Henry V...
I also hope to continue the series, maybe next month. So many other books beckoning right now!

Oct 11, 2016, 5:22pm Top

Can definitely see Brian Blessed too! Or Roger Allam, channelling Falstaff?

Hoping to find more Lymonds at the big book sale next month.

Oct 11, 2016, 9:57pm Top

Oct 11, 2016, 10:13pm Top

Glad you liked it! Definitely agree about the great female characters and that it worked best in large chunks.

I recently read Antonia Fraser's biography of Mary Queen of Scots and historical fiction by Margaret George called Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles. They were both excellent. They focus on events that are just a little bit later than this first Lymond book, but I bet they would really help with subsequent volumes of the series.

Oct 11, 2016, 10:16pm Top

Adding both to the TBR! I think having some more historical background would be useful indeed. That period in general is not something I know much about.

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