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The Ringed Castle by Dorothy Dunnett

The Ringed Castle (1971)

by Dorothy Dunnett

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Lymond Chronicles (5)

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925914,437 (4.51)34



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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
It took me a little while to settle into this 5th volume of the Lymond Chronicles, after the story arc that had done most to drive the last two volumes had come to a devastating conclusion. I knew that there was a story behind that story that must play out, that the big questions that underpin this whole sequence of novels had to be answered and that those two things were in all probability linked; but I needed time to adjust to such a dramatic shift, and to new directions that were intriguing but didn’t move that story forward with the same momentum that I had come to expect.

Lymond had travelled to Russia in the company of Kiaya Khátún, sometimes known as Güzel, mistress of the Harem of Dragut Rais. They took up residence in Moscow where he set about creating and training a new military force to serve the Tsar. How this came about was far from clear. I saw more than enough reasons for him: he knew that he had the ability to create a fighting force in a country that had no army to speak of; that doing that could establish something lasting of his own, with no ties to his troubled past; and that staying away from his homeland was probably the best thing to do in the light of the prophecy that him. I was less sure of her: establishing a residence and a presence in a new country, however strategically places, was surely not enough.

I have learned though, from the books that brought me to this place, that everything happens for a reason and that it usually takes times for those reasons to become clear, and so I stored that question away with others and continued to read.

It didn’t take long for me to be captivated by the story that played out in Russia.

The intrigue, and the balancing of a fictional story was real history, was as fine as anything in this series. The descriptions, the evocation of the world that Lymond entered, was as glorious as anything that had come before. And – in time – there would be enough to suggest that Lymond could not – would not – escape his past.

I loved that the world of this book was completely historical, and that every person and every thing in that world was completely and utterly of its time; so that reading really is looking through a window into the past without ever thinking that there is distance, that there is a frame …. The use of perspective is part of this with Lymond always seen through the eyes of others who have knowledge of him but not complete understanding; so that even as knowledge is gained there is always a feeling that there is more to come. That was wonderfully effective is this book, with Lymond first seen through the eyes of the men he had summoned from St Mary’s, his elite mercenary company, to train and form a new force to serve the Tsar; and then, even more effectively, through the eyes of a real historical figure, an Englishman who had come to Russia, who was both a fascinating character in this own right and maybe the man Lymond could have been had his history been less troubled.

Back in England, Phillipa was trying to uncover and untangle that history. Her scenes were a lovely reminder of the unresolved story arc that began at the very start of the first book in this series and that was a little lacking in the Russian story; a new view of familiar history to balance the less familiar Russian history; and enjoyable for their own sake because Phillipa has grown into a remarkable young woman, and while it is clear that she has learned much it is equally clear that she has many more lessons still to be learned.

Lymond had no wish to set foot on the British Isles again, but when the Tsar wishes him to accompany his first ambassador to England, and to help the English merchants who want to form a trading company in Russia, he recognised that he must do just that. There was much drama, on the journey and at the destination; certain characters who had not been seen for some time reappeared; and there were signs that some questions might be answered as I expected, but the answers to the most important questions continued to tantalise.

This was the part of the book that I enjoyed the least; and, much as I want to know what happens next, I think I need to take a break from the richness, the intensity and the elusiveness of these books before I pick up the very last one.

The ending though was fascinating. Lymond set out on a course that his friends and allies believed was fundamentally flawed. They pulled against him, he resisted; and I couldn’t help thinking that there had been a time when they wouldn’t have dared and that he would have reacted far more harshly.

That told me he has matured over the course of five books, how much everything that that happened had affected him and the people around him, and how deeply involved I have become.

When reflected on the first book on the series my overriding thought was that it was was lovely to hear the words of someone so much cleverer than me, who was so articulate, who had a wonderfully rich tale to tell, talking at very great length; and that feeling has grown stronger as I have read more and more.

I don’t want this to be over, but I do want to be ready to pick up the next book …. ( )
  BeyondEdenRock | Jun 17, 2019 |
This used to be my least favourite of the series... Lymond spends much time in Russia, seemingly marking time; but on re-reading you get a better understanding of the family stresses that keep him away from Scotland. This one introduces us to Philippa as an adult at Queen Mary's court, but also throws in oodles of astrologers which never felt like a strong plot device, or at least, it's one I was impatient with. And prettily described as it is, Lymond as the Voevoda Bolshoia of Tsar Ivan's armies comes across as an annoying pedantic perfectionist - at this stage in the story he has lost his sparkle and is all hard edged diamond. The whole series has such a high standard though, that even though this is still the bottom of the pile, it is a solid 5 star read :) ( )
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
When we left Francis Crawford of Lymond he had just married Philippa Somerville and sent her home to England with his two year old son, Kuzum. Meanwhile, he hooked up with harem head, Kiaya Khatien, the former mistress of Dragus Rais. Because of her, his next adventure takes him to the crude and unforgiving lands of Russia where he becomes advisor to Tsar Ivan (later, Ivan the Terrible). It becomes Crawford's mission to create, muster, train and equip a professional Russian army. Francis, now called the Voedoda Bolshoia, is becoming even calmer and more complicated but he remains just as cool and cruel as always. Typical, his motives are constantly questioned. I find his relationship with a golden eagle under his command is fascinating. I enjoyed best the scenes with this bird despite the cruel end.
Meanwhile, back in London, Philippa digs into her husband's heritage and uncovers some troubling secrets, which by the way, sets up the final book, Checkmate, perfectly. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Dec 16, 2015 |
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 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dorothy Dunnettprimary authorall editionscalculated
Monteath, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Napier, AndrewNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:52 -0400)

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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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