The Game of Kings

( 49 )


Dunnett introduces her irresistible hero Francis Crawford of Lymond, a scapegrace nobleman of elastic morals and dangerous talents whose tongue is as sharp as his rapier. In 1547 Lymond is returning to his native Scotland, which is threatened by an English invasion. Accused of treason, Lymond leads a band of outlaws in a desperate race to redeem his reputation and save his land.
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Dunnett introduces her irresistible hero Francis Crawford of Lymond, a scapegrace nobleman of elastic morals and dangerous talents whose tongue is as sharp as his rapier. In 1547 Lymond is returning to his native Scotland, which is threatened by an English invasion. Accused of treason, Lymond leads a band of outlaws in a desperate race to redeem his reputation and save his land.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Published in 1966, 1961, 1969, and 1964, respectively, these four volumes are the first in Dunnett's popular "Lymond Chronicles," which follows the various adventures of Scottish nobleman Francis Crawford both at home and abroad. Dunnett has been dubbed the world's greatest living historical writer, and her books are an addiction. Librarians should note that the author is a past board member of the National Library of Scotland.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780788743788
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 1/1/1961
  • Series: The Lymond Chronicles
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged

Table of Contents

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Interviews & Essays

On Thursday, October 30th, welcomed Dorothy Dunnett to discuss THE GAME OF KINGS.

Moderator: Welcome, Ms. Dunnett! We're glad you could take a minute out of your tour to talk to us tonight.

Dorothy Dunnett: Well, hi! I'm delighted to be here. I've never done this before, so I've been looking forward to it.

David from New York City: Good evening, Dorothy. I was just wondering what type of research you did for this book. Did you go to Scotland?

Dorothy Dunnett: Hello, David. For the six Lymond books, I read over 600 books on Scottish history and on all the other countries in Europe during the Renaissance. Scotland was easy though, because I live in the capital, Edinburgh.

Danielle Miller from California: What is it about the 15th and 16th centuries that draws you to writing about those decades?

Dorothy Dunnett: Hi, Danielle. I was interested in the Renaissance because I paint and I love music, because of the rich colors of the period, the costumes they wore.... It was also a wonderful time to write about strong rulers, like Ivan the Terrible and Suleiman the Magnificent, of Turkey.

Henry Black from Hartford, CT: Do you think the heroic likes of Francis Crawford exist today? How do the qualities of the classical hero transfer to today?

Dorothy Dunnett: Hi. I don't think that you would find in today's society a hero as obvious as the heroes of the past, beginning with King Arthur, and the magnificent kings and warlords whose stories have come down to us in stories, but I think you find the same qualities hiding behind the modern facade of some great men who live in our society -- I think so, anyway.

Brett from Philadelphia, PA: Can you please tell me a little about your writing schedule? Do you write every day? How long did it take you to write THE GAME OF KINGS?

Dorothy Dunnett: Well, hi. The answer to that is that I write only when I'm not doing anything else. I run a house, and I have a lot of other interests, and there are a lot of other things going on in my circle. I find that most of my free time is at night; most of my historical novels are written between 12am and 5am, in my studio -- they take about 14 months to write. THE GAME OF KINGS, which was the first I ever wrote, probably took at least twice as long, because I was learning as I went.

Paul from Morris Plains, NJ: Are you at all surprised by the popularity of historical fiction, with novels like your books and the enormously popular COLD MOUNTAIN? What is that draws so many people to historical fiction?

Dorothy Dunnett: I think that's easy: escapism. At least, that's why I write historical fiction, and I think it's the same with readers. We all like to escape into another world, for a short time, anyway.

Miles from Allentown, PA: Good evening, Ms. Dunnett. Do you still paint?

Dorothy Dunnett: Yes, I do. I painted one of the Queen's chaplains recently, and I have at least one commission waiting, but all my painting has to be fitted in between my writing. Since I have another episode of the Niccolo series due, I probably won't turn to portraiture until that is completed.

Gerald Merryman from Portland, Oregon: Hello. I am a friend of Marjorie Johnson and met you at home in 1982. I'm reading the Niccolo series, and I wonder how far you are into book VIII by now. I'm looking forward to it.

Dorothy Dunnett: Hello! It's lovely to hear from you. That was a great gathering in Edinburgh. I hope you'll be there in 2000. As for Niccolo, I'll be starting VIII as soon as I get back from this tour. I hope to finish it in time for publication in the autumn of 1999.

Nelson from Hartford, CT: Are there any historical figures in Scottish history that you consider personal favorites?

Dorothy Dunnett: That's an easy one! I wrote a book called KING HEREAFTER, and the man in it was called Earl Thorfinn of Orcney, who lived in the 11th century.

Genoa from the net: Did you have a model for Francis Crawford?

Dorothy Dunnett: I'm always being asked if Lymond is based on someone I know in Scotland, and I always say Scotland is full of people like Lymond, and you should come and meet some of them.

Brenda L. from Lexington, Kentucky: How did you get your first book published?

Dorothy Dunnett: Well, Brenda, I sent half of GAME OF KINGS to a publisher, and he wrote back and said that he would like to publish it, but that it seemed that it would be very long, and so I might have to cut it. When he received the final book he loved it, but he said it was indeed too long and asked would I reduce it, which I didn't want to bother to do. My husband suggested I send it to New York, because long novels were popular then in the United States. It was received by Lois Coles of Putnam, who had just published GONE WITH THE WIND. She sent me a contract accepting it immediately -- and mentioned in her letter that she would like me to reduce it -- with a contract to encourage me. So I did. She then went on to publish the other five books and became a great friend.

Monroe from Sacramento, CA: With all your knowledge of Scottish history, do you have any plans to write nonfiction?

Dorothy Dunnett: That's an interesting question because I've become addicted to research, to the point that my husband says wearily, "When are you going to stop the research and write the book?" I was invited to write a book about the creation of the novel KING HEREAFTER, and perhaps one day I will. But I think my life would be shortened if I broke off the present series before it was completed.

David from London: Has the Lymond series ever been considered as the basis for a film or a TV series?

Dorothy Dunnett: Hello, David. Yes. In fact, a year or two ago I was in London at the invitation of a TV producer to talk about making THE GAME OF KINGS into a 13-part series, but unfortunately something else came along, and the funding for the project was dropped. I hope one day someone will pick it up again.

Sheila Shield from Wolverhampton, England: One of the things I most enjoy about your books is the humour. Do you reread them, and do they still make you laugh?

Dorothy Dunnett: Funnily enough, I recently reread one of my thrillers, DOLLY AND THE DOCTOR BIRD, because I was going to Miami and that book was partly set there. I admit with embarrassment that bits of it did make me laugh.

Susan from Washington, D.C.: I have been curious about the relationship of the Lymond Chronicles to the House of Niccolo series. Several people have told me that one of the characters in the House of Niccolo series is also (will be?) in the Lymond series. Is this true? I will have to go back and reread them! When will CAPRICE AND RONDO be released in the U.S? Your books have provided a great deal of pleasure over the years. Thank you.

Dorothy Dunnett: That's very nice of you to say. And you are quite right, the Niccolo series and the Lymond series are linked; once the Niccolo series is finished, there will be a whole series of 14 books. Niccolo number VII, CAPRICE AND RONDO, is being published next week in Britain and next year in New York.

Paul Rogers from UK: I seem to have lots of questions! Have you ever been approached by filmmakers interested in the Lymond series? I know this is a favorite question at many of the British gatherings I've attended and on dunnettwork too. Would you consider such a proposition, and are there any actors who you would favour for the roles of either Lymond or Nicholas?

Dorothy Dunnett: Well, as you will just have seen, there was a television proposal, and prior to that there have been several nibbles about films. I hope one day someone will create a film script from one or more of the books -- but who could play Lymond is the eternal problem. When the book first came out, the film "Lawrence of Arabia" seemed to answer the question, but that was a long time ago. I don't know who fits the bill -- perhaps an unknown would be best.

Marina Niccetta from Chicago, IL: As a woman, is it ever difficult to write about a male hero? Has all your writing taught you anything about men? Or women, for that matter?

Dorothy Dunnett: It's the other way around. It's because I know so many men that I don't find it too difficult to create my own characters. I'm very lucky in being thrown into my husband's business world and living in a capital city where we both can meet many hundreds of different people and have a very big circle of friends. Once you understand human nature a little, that teaches you about how to write about people.

Zoe Schramm-Evans from London: Hello, Dorothy. Are you looking forward to completing the final Niccolo book, or will it leave a gap? I've enjoyed both the Niccolo and the Lymond series very much indeed, incidentally.

Dorothy Dunnett: I'm so glad you've enjoyed both of the series. I'm trying not to think what it will be like when I complete the Niccolo books in two years' time, because I remember how difficult it was after CHECKMATE, when after 14 years of constant planning, there seemed nothing left to think about, but my family is of course looking forward to it. from x: What are your thoughts on the Internet? Does it surprise you that you have legions of fans on the Internet?

Dorothy Dunnett: I am absolutely staggered! I knew about dunnettwork, but I thought interest was confined to readers I already knew about. The worldwide explosion has really taken me aback, and thanks to you all.

Moderator: Thanks so much for responding to all of our questions tonight. Best of luck with future projects. We hope you'll join us here again soon. Goodnight!

Dorothy Dunnett: I have really enjoyed being here and responding to you, and I would very much like to do it again. Thank you, and best wishes to you for the future.

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Reading Group Guide

About the Book:The questions, discussion topics, book descriptions, and author biography are designed to enhance your group's reading and discussion of Dorothy Dunnett's six bestselling novels in the Lymond Chronicles. We hope they will enrich your experience of these imaginative and adventuresome works of historical fiction.

First set in sixteenth-century Scotland following a disastrous war with England, the Lymond novels have as their hero Francis Crawford of Lymond, a nobleman and soldier of fortune possessed of a scholar's erudition, an elastic sense of morals, and the tongue of a poet. The six novels take this compellingly charismatic figure on a perilous and colorful tour through the glittering courts and power centers of sixteenth-century Europe.

To these novels, Dorothy Dunnett brings an effortless narrative mastery, in-depth human portraiture, and an uncanny ability to reanimate the past. The Lymond novels are works of marvelous intelligence and pure enchantment, adventures for both the heart and mind.Discussion Questions:For discussion of The Game of Kings

Question: The Game of Kings is the first of six books in the Lymond series based on the imagery of chess. Who would you say are the gamesters in this novel? Do the kings "play" the game or are they pieces in the game? Given the way suspense is created and information hidden, how is the novelist at some level engaged in a chess game with the reader?

Question: The brothers Francis Crawford of Lymond and Richard Crawford of Culter appear to be rivals in every field: love, war, politics, family. Which scenes make you feel you've seen the heart of this relationship? Has Dorothy Dunnett managed to create in Richard a character with a fullness of his own, aside from his function as "foil" to Lymond? Is Richard as "romantic" a character as his brother? More romantic?

Question: Lymond's Spanish disguise at Hume Castle is only the most theatrical and public of the flamboyant hero's many masquerades; what are some of the others? Besides the multiple political or military purposes, what do you think are some of the deeper psychological reasons for Lymond's brilliance at, or even addiction to, "acting"?

Question: Lymond likens sixteenth-century Scotland to a wren caught between crocodiles. How do the character and choices of Wat Scott of Buccleuch mirror, and affect, what's happening in Scotland? What about Andrew Hunter of Ballaggan? Would you call Agnes Herries, later Maxwell, such a "wren"?

Question: Perhaps the most poignant relationship in the novel is that between the protagonist, Lymond, and young Will Scott, the heir to the lordship of Buccleuch. What are some of the lessons Will must learn during his "apprenticeship" with Lymond?

Question: Startlingly enough, in the course of this novel the glamorous and dangerous protagonist has no lovers and no sex, delivers only one kiss, and ends up in the embrace of his mother. What are some of the ironies here? What does the romantic triangle created between Richard Crawford, his wife Mariotta, and Francis Crawford seem to be saying about "romance"? About love?

Question: Why does Lymond put himself in the hands of his enemies to redeem Christian Stewart, held hostage in England? How is this relationship, as Lymond says, "made possible" by her blindness? How does the blind girl help the reader more truly "see" Lymond?

Question: The scene at the climax of the novel cuts back and forth between a legal hearing and a game of tarot cards—a game associated with the mystic, occult, and fateful. How do the contesting parties in the legal game and in the card game mirror one another? What might Dorothy Dunnett be suggesting by this pairing of the legal and the occult worlds?

Question: A good popular novel should, arguably, have some strong villains: Who qualifies for this role in The Game of Kings? Is it easy to distinguish treason from patriotism—or patriotism from egoism—in the world of the novel?

For discussion of the Lymond Chronicles

Question: The hero of a long series of historical novels, like the hero of a crime or detective series, lives properly in a milieu of struggle and physical violence and is likely to be the object of this violence over and over. Yet, of course, he must survive it if the series is to continue: "Popular resurrections are a tedious pastime of Francis'," says Lady Lennox in Queens' Play, trying to recover from yet another reappearance by the handsome nemesis she had thought was dead. What are the most interesting or important examples of the deaths and resurrections of Francis Crawford in the series? How and for what purpose do such scenes play with the feelings of the reader?

Question: In its various travels and stories, the Lymond Chronicles encompass several religious systems—Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Russian Orthodox Christianity, as well as several forms of the Islamism of the Ottoman Empire. What is the series' attitude toward religion, religious institutions, and authentic spirituality? What do figures like the Dame de Doubtance, John Dee, and Michel de Nostradamus—astrologers and scientists, mystics and psychologists—represent in this respect?

Question: Over the length of the Lymond Chronicles the protagonist must withstand the attacks of three powerful antagonists—Margaret Lennox, Graham Malett, and Leonard Bailey. How do these figures of evil differ in their reasons for wanting to possess or destroy Francis Crawford? Does the manner of their deaths or downfalls seem particularly appropriate to their characters?

Question: As the secrets of the Crawford family structure surface one by one, through the very last few pages of the last novel, the questions raised in the first novel about Francis Crawford's relationship with his father, his brother, and his sister acquire disconcerting new dimensions. What new father, brother, sister does he need to integrate into his understanding of his family? One thing never changes, however—the centrality of his relationship to his mother for his psyche, his sexuality, even his politics. What by the end do we think of Sybilla Semple Crawford?

Question: The essence of a good historical novel is its capacity to create colorful scenes for pure entertainment value, while also offering shrewd characterization, complex plot evolution, and acute political and social insight. Is the comedy of a scene like the feast and fight at the Ostrich Inn in Part II of The Game of Kings, for instance, a good balance for the pure thrill of the swordfight and chase into Hexham in Part IV? How do these scenes illuminate character, plot, and relationships?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 49 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 49 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 19, 2010

    Hard slogging but well worth the effort

    Definitely not for the faint of heart, but so rich and intricate have the heart to keep going. At first, I didn't quite know what to make of this book. It's written in a sort of antique English brogue with frequent French and old English spellings that are hard to read. I have mostly skimmed the parts I don't understand, being basically lazy, but when something was necessary for me to understand what was being said, I used Google, the ubiquitous explainer without which I could not live. I frequently wondered if it was worth all the effort, as it was initially very unclear where the plot was going. The first vignette is quite promising, however, being fairly comic and interesting if convoluted.... about a drunken pig and being smuggled into the country... the story progresses with one vignette or chapter after the other winding a circuitous route around the main character, a dashing, handsome, brilliant, and irrepressible noble by the name of Francis Crawford of Lymond, Master of Culter.

    As I waded through a bewildering array of scenarios and characters, I gradually became enthralled. I am now almost finished and while reading this afternoon, I found myself responding to the story in a visceral way and realized that Ms. Dunnett had quite magically wound the story around my emotions, pulling them out and into a great knot in my stomach as I wondered how Lymond was going to survive; knowing he would as there are five more books, my heart torn asunder by his battle with his brother, Richard. Now, on the cusp of being finished, I am already sad that this sometimes exasperating and exhausting journey is almost at an end.

    I am finished and have little to add, except the ending was most satisfactory. The hero is complicated and intelligent and the ideas and thinking are quite deep and profound. I am quite satisfied and am extremely glad I made the effort of reading it.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 26, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A Hard Read, But Series Gets Much Better

    This is the first book in the Lymond series. It is a tough read, and you must brush up on your foreign language skills. It is a must read for those interested in reading the series, because it introduces many characters that are carried through the series. It is an amazing series, if you can get through this first book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 19, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    For Readers More Interested in Literature than Pop-Fiction

    The Game of Kings is the first, and most difficult, installment in Dorothy Dunnett's wonderful Lymond Series. It took me some time to get into this book but, once I did, I was absolutely hooked and the books in the series are now my favorite books. Dunnett is a masterful historical author whose books are up there with any action/adventure/historical novels in the literary canon. One reads her books first just to find out what happens, then over and over again to get all the little nuances and literary touches missed the first, second, or third time through. They have received increased, and much-deserved, scholarly attention in recent years. I just cannot praise these books enough. Stick with the series and you will be on the edge of your seat by the end of the last book. I have listed some of the other books in the series in the "I Also Recommend" section, but not all of them because we are limited to 5 books and I wanted to include the Companion and one of her non-series books. Be sure to read them in order. The "Companion" is very helpful in terms of understanding her literary allusions and historical background.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2014

    Loved it

    As suggested by Deborah Harkness as a good read, I read what an intricate story, loved every line, a tough read due to the language ( dialect ) in some places but oh so enjoyable...well on to the next one. Book 2

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2013

    Worth re-reading

    I read this series when I was in high school, over 40 years ago. Then I read for the romance and adventure, and of course, I fell in love with the Lymond character. This time I better appreciate the other characters and the historical and social setting. In fact, I though the presentation of some of the minor characters was entertaining and educational.

    Unfortunately, my library does not have any of this series, so I'm forced to buy the ebooks from B&N. Still worth it if I ration them slowly,

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2012

    An excellent beginning...

    Have you ever wondered where magnificently complex fiction had gone? It starts here, with the first of Dorothy Dunnett's "Lymond" series. This book is a must-read; though it is best to have a bit of French, Spanish, and Latin; that isnt an absolute requirement, as some of the foreign language bits can be understood via context.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2012

    Astonishing blend of history and riveting fictional characters.

    Rich and satisfying storytelling. Can't wait to read the rest of the Lymond series.

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  • Posted August 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    simply the best.

    this lymond series and the subsequent nicolo one are without peer anywhere. i own all--what is it, 14?-- books in trade paper, and many of them also in hardback, an entire audio set, and now all i have to do is decide if i can really spend what will eventually add up to nearly $150 for the ebooks. well, the first two are only $6.99 at this writing...and dame dorothy, sadly, will write no more.

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  • Posted October 26, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great author

    I loved this book. Dorothy Dunnett has the ability to sweep a reader back in time. I highly recommend the series. If you plan on buying the series from B&N, you should buy the paperback version. I bought the first three in hardback and now that I'm ready to buy the last three, they are no longer available in hardback.

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  • Posted June 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Rich Characters in a Calamitous Setting

    Dunnett is certainly a master of historical fiction. Rarely does historical fiction reach the pinnacle of the "thriller" variety, but this one does it with ease. Lymond is on par with any of the main characters of Ludlum, Clancy and others who write in present. At times the use of historical language is a touch cumbersome, but it does add to the historical feel, and after a while you rarely notice it. I'll be reading the remainder of the series as soon as I get them in hand.

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  • Posted January 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Addicting and Life-changing

    I love this book so much. Overcoming the first 160 pages, however, was a huge struggle. It was bogged down with Dunnett's convoluted and crytic prose, foreign and ancient passages, intricate plot, and large cast of real and fictional characters. I put the book down several times, wondering if I could ever finish it. Although with the help of Webster's Dictionary and Dorothy Dunnett companion books, my patience and hard work eventually paid off. I devoured the remaining 5 books in a month. Each new installment got better and better!<BR/><BR/>GoK was the beginning of a life-changing experience for me. I still find that every time I re-read the Lymond Chronicles I always discover something new or "click," because I didn't get it before. I never get tired of reliving the extraordinary adventures of Lymond! Please read, or give it a try. A minority of people come out disappointed, but the majority come out happily rewarded and altered--in some way or fashion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2008

    Reading an Errol Flynn Movie

    The historical color/detail in the book are excellent, but the characters are mostly straight out of Hollywood: They have 'late 20th century' opinions and attitudes, and they behave like teenagers. After a couple of adventures, one loses interest, since they--Lymond himself, mostly--will pull some rabbit--i.e. some skill, talent, or intricate scheme--out of a hat, and undo their [his] foes. [YES, I read the whole thing] On a positive note: Errol Flynn no longer making movies--if you miss them, this is as close as you're going to get to a new one.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2006

    Dorothy Dunnett-Master Story Teller

    I have read the entire series and felt that it was excellent entertainment as well as historically interesting as the facts and figures of the time period were woven into the storyline.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2005

    Excellent Reading

    The books of this series are among some of the best written, most entertaining I've ever read -- and I've read a lot. Dunnett's historical detail is excellent, and her writing and story-telling ability is way beyond other 'popular' writers. I will admit that getting into the first book was a bit tough because her writing style is very literary and not what we're accustomed to these days. Also, her frequent use of foreign languagues was distressing before I realized that it didn't really matter if I didn't know exactly what the words meant. (I bought the Companion before I started on my second read, and that helped.) But, once I got used to Dunnett's style, I became hooked on the story so that I was hardly able to put each book down until I'd finished it. When I finished reading the last, I wanted to go back and start the whole series over again. I was overwhelmed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2004

    A reading and fantasy finatic

    Even though I have not yet finished the first book in the Lymond Chronicles, I am most certainly hooked for the long haul. At first I was a little confused with all of the different characters, but as time went on things started making more and more sense and I became completely infatuated with Lymond. He's one of those old-fashioned, princely hero's and one cannot help but forgive him of his mis-deeds. A must for all avid readers, truly!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2004

    Forget about Realism in this series

    While I adore reading historical fiction, I prefer considerably more realism than this series offers and MUCH fewer untraslated, unexplained classical quotes & references in Latin, Italian, Turkish, French, Spanish. Perhaps the author is an exquisite linguist however I am not interested enough to sit reading with half a dozen foreign language dictionaries by my side. If you're a fan of the corny old Erol Flynn movies you'll love 'em. If you're looking for at least a smattering of historical accuracy and plausible characters FORGET IT! You'll scarcely get through the first book. I put the 2nd book down after the first dozen pages and will NOT pick it up again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2003

    An Amazing Masterpiece....

    This author was so gifted! Francis was the ultimate hero, handsome, intelligent, sensitive, and compassionate. He was sexy and romantic without ever having a love scene. This is not a difficult read, but focus and rapt attention is required.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2001

    historical fiction at its very best.

    once you have read this first book in the Lymond Chronical you just have to read them all, not just once but over and over. I first read this book in my teens and over the next 25yrs I have re-read them too many times to count.Greatly anticipating favourite sections and becoming sorrowful as the I reach the last few chapters of the last book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2000

    How do you start a series?

    The answer, of course, is exactly the way Ms Dunnett has. From the very first line, 'Lymond's back.' ,I was captivated. My mind was kept busy anticipating, guessing and being surprised. Even when I wasn't reading, my mind was leaping ahead, trying to devine what Lymond would do next. I loved him from the first, even at times believing the worst of him. I found it easy to forgive him all crimes. If it was Ms Dunnett's purpose to create a character at once lovable and despisable, she did a masterful job! He could be cold, cruel and calculating, but then he could suffer for the sake of another's virtue. The dramatic scenes between the two brothers bring the book towards an exciting, and most satisfying end. Of course, then you must read on to find out what happens to our favourite rogue...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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