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Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett
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Pawn in Frankincense (1969)

by Dorothy Dunnett

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The first three volumes in the Lymond Chronicles were nice, but with this fourth one the series takes a big leap in quality to being very good indeed. Part of the reason for this is admittedly somewhat rather subjective: Most of the novel takes place in the Ottoman Empire, and I have always had a huge fondness for everything related to Arabian Nights – so everything set against that or a similar background gets a big advance bonus from me.

More importantly though, the series’ hero Francis Lymond is considerably less annoying here than he was in the previous volumes – while I have never held with the view that a protagonist has to be likeable, Lymond’s “tragically misunderstood” posturing was just teeth-grindingly irritating and rather clashed with his exhaustively stated brilliance. There is almost nothing of his former emo attitude left in Pawn in Frankincense, which might be due to the character experiencing some real tragedy – in any case, while still not exactly likeable (which he might not supposed to be anyway) he appears considerably more mature in this volume.

Dunnett evokes the atmosphere of Renaissance Ottoman Empire very vividly – her prose is both rich in historical information and saturated with sensual detail. The compelling, complex plot leads all the way from Switzerland to Constantinople, and another thing which distinguishes Pawn in Frankincense is that while in previous novels in the Lymond Chronicles it was always pretty obvious that no matter how bad things seemed to look for our hero, he was always following some secret master plan that would make him emerge victorious in the end, there is no such certainty in Pawn in Frankincense – this time, it is the bad guy who pulls all of the strings, and Lymond has to struggle to keep up with him, which does not always manage successfully. The final confrontation, while it appears somewhat contrived and not particularly plausible, has a huge emotional impact and I don’t think anyone who read it is likely to ever forget it.
  Larou | Nov 5, 2011 |
Okay you've made it this far now the chase is on. Again I will say nothing about the plot just that this time most of the action is in Constantinople and the journey to it. Sometimes this book seems to drag but it is purposeful because this book is about a seemingly impossible pursuit. Frustration abounds. On a reread everything is colored by the climatic scene and its aftermath, so the dragged out search is now a colorful puzzle. As I've said before do not peek at the end, one you will not understand it and two the ending is so powerful it deserves the build up.
Aside from the action, this book is a character study of some of the players that come to the fore in the final two books. Pawn is the pivotal book in the series. ( )
  ValLloyd | Sep 24, 2011 |
I loved the first of the Lymond Chronicles (Game of Kings) and tgerefore read the rest, even though they got ptrogressively grimmer. This one is very grim and I really dislike the parts where a woman is skinned and stuff and where a young child get strangled. ( )
  antiquary | Jun 7, 2011 |
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Book #4 in the Lymond Chronicles and a definite WOW book, February 21, 2008


Pawn in Frankincense opens up shortly after the end of The Disorderly Knights, as Jerrott and Philippa track down Lymond on his search to find Francis' child, stolen by renegade Knight Graham Reed Malett and hidden somewhere in the heart of the Ottoman Empire. Francis uses his position as an emissary of France delivering gifts to Suleiman the Magnificent as an entrée into the mysterious world of the east as he and his companions continue their desperate search for Lymond's son. However, the deliciously evil Graham's schemes lead them on from one false lead to another, as the web is spun to bring Francis and troops further into Graham's evil web. Nothing and no one is as they seem, and the author throws many red herrings and surprises into her tale and eventually we discover that there are two blond, blue eyed children being sought. One child is Francis', who is father of the other?

Although separated, Lymond and his followers all end up in Constantinople, as Graham's plots come to fruition and Lymond, Jerrott, Archie and the mysterious Marthe with the striking resemblance to Lymond begin the fight of their lives in a real life chess game with deadly consequences for any who are "captured", and Francis battles to maintain his wits against the deadly addiction Graham's schemes have unknowingly afflicted him with.

As with the first three 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. This book is filled with non-stop action and suspense and ends with quite a big surprise of a cliffhanger which will send the reader reaching for the next book in the series, The Ringed Castle (Lymond Chronicles, 5). A solid five stars and my favorite so far in the series ( )
  Misfit | Jun 10, 2009 |
Any novel by Dunnett must be savored - I can never just plow thru it no matter how badly I want to move the story along. And then, at the end, I want to go back a reread it.

THe chess game at the end was a masterpiece of writing. I found this novel to be the most demanding so far - both physically and emotionally. I was really depressed at the end I had been so fully pulled into the story. ( )
  Mendoza | Jul 5, 2007 |
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The bathers of Baden in summer were few and fat.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679777466, Paperback)

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

Pawn in Frankincense is the fourth in the legendary Lymond Chronicles. Somewhere within the bejeweled labyrinth of the Ottoman empire, a child is hidden. Now his father, Francis Crawford of Lymond, soldier of fortune and the exiled heir of Scottish nobility, is searching for him while ostensibly engaged on a mission to the Turkish Sultan. At stake is a pawn in a cutthroat game whose gambits include treason, enslavement, and murder. With a Foreword by the author.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:40 -0400)

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