The Game of Kings (Dorothy Dunnett)

The Game of Kings (The Lymond Chronicles, #1)The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Goodreads: "Praised for her historical fiction by critics and devoted fans alike, author Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles took the romance world by storm some 30 years ago, firmly fixing Dunnett's reputation as a master of the historical romance. The Game of Kings, the first story in The Lymond Chronicles, sets the stage for what will be a sweeping saga filled with passion, courage, and the endless fight for freedom. The setting is 1547, in Edinborough, Scotland. Francis Crawford of Lymond returns to the country despite the charge of treason hanging over his head. Set on redeeming his reputation, He leads a company of outlaws against England as he fights for the country he loves so dearly. Dangerous, quick-witted, and utterly irresistible, Lymond is pure pleasure to watch as he traverses 16th-century Scotland in search of freedom. The Game of Kings is a must-have for the historical romance connoisseur."

I picked this book up on Danica's recommendation, so I had high expectations. Impressions: sweeping, complicated, intrigue! Piqued interest!

I had to work harder reading this book than I've had to in a long time. It was such hard going that I put the book down for about a week, then picked it up and started it over again, being very careful to actually read every word. On one hand, I appreciated it. Reading actively is something I think most people don't do quite enough of, especially since it requires single-minded focus, an increasingly endangered skill in today's world.

On the other hand, I wish I hadn't had to work quite so hard. It took a good 150 pages to really sink into the book, to get past the set-up and into some of the real action, players playing against each other instead of moving their pieces cautiously around the board, hiding. If this book hadn't come so highly recommended, it's likely I would have put it down somewhere in there.

On to Lymond. He's such a bizarre enigma that I can't think of any way to properly describe him. He's an antihero. He knifes a lady in the first 30 pages or so. (Don't worry, she lives.) He's haunted by a dark and dangerous past marked by the scent of treason. He plays people against each other until they don't know whether he's friend or foe.

I like to know my main characters, but Lymond wouldn't let me close enough to know him. (Entirely in character for him, of course, but it detracted from my enjoyment of the story.) Instead I pinned my hopes on the supporters: the lovely Christian Stewart, the dastardly Margaret Lennox, and of course the matriarch, Lady Sybilla. Lymond's brother? Hmm. I think he has potential. If he can stop acting like an ass all the time. 

The Game of Kings is a difficult book to read. It's hard to fall into if you don't have at least a basic understanding of the political climate of the place and time. Getting at the meat of the story means going through a lot of obscure word parrying and jouncing back and forth (many pages worth). But in the end, it's worth it. There is action, there are the hints of romance. There are people who are not who they appear to be, and those who are exactly who you expected them to be right from the beginning. There are BIG questions raised, and plenty of time (five books worth?) to answer them. It's a complex story, and it's all sorts of awesome.

Final word: It's the start of a grand adventure, but takes some commitment to get into.

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