• Well Red

Literally my favourite book - Ever.



Title: The Game of Kings Author: Dorothy Dunnett First published: 1961 Edition reviewed: 2017 Publisher: Penguin Random House UK

Rating: ***** Genre: Historical fiction Setting: Scotland and the English border in 1547 Difficulty: Hard Length: 510 pages Series: Yes, the first in the Lymond Chronicles. This book can be read as a stand alone novel.

Always spoiler free

Full disclosure. This is the first book of my favourite series – Ever. This is interesting for two reasons; one – it’s not a fantasy novel which is my genre of choice, and two – it’s a very difficult read. Despite this, I adore the series and I’m going to try and explain why!


The first book follows the return of Lymond (or, if you please, Francis Crawford of Lymond, Master of Culter) to Scotland and the intrigue that follows his illegal return from exile. Lymond is everything you would want in a rogue – dashing, incredibly intelligent, dangerous, and beautiful.


Woven – exquisitely, passionately – through the novel are true historical events and characters, although Lymond and his immediate family are fictional. This is the kind of book that has a map and list of characters at the front, and yes, you will need it! It’s also been written by a historian and filled with all the kind of details you never thought you wanted (and have at times to struggle through), but by the end that you realise you absolutely needed that level of detail to understand all the different plot lines.


The book is extremely complex. The only perspective you have of the main character is through the eyes of others, so all his faults (perceived or true) are laid bare through the opinions of others. By doing this Dunnett introduces our ‘hero’ as an incredibly complex character whose morality is always questionable. Written entirely in the third person, the perspective shifts multiple times in the book. This is never awkward or obviously, the book flows neatly between characters, never breaking momentum. Lymond’s mechanisms and talents are shown to you, the reader, through the eyes of his allies, enemies, and bystanders. Dunnett choice is shrewd – you have no idea how Lymond’s actions, choices and loyalties (as well as other characters, both minor and major) weave together until the climatic end.


When I say this book is difficult, I am perhaps understating things. Dunnett frequently has her characters quoting songs and poems in multiple languages, and understandably a lot of her characters speak in Scots. She doesn’t provide any translations for these, which could be a turn off for readers, but it instead acts to bring you fully into the period and setting, if you give it the chance.


Dunnett is somewhat prone to showing off her vast contemporary knowledge of the period, which means that the text is dense and sometimes the pacing can feel slow as you are given a lot of detail. Because of this you do need a little bit of patience to get used to her way of writing at the beginning. But when you do the world she has created opens up and draws you in, painting the characters, setting and period in perfect detail.


This book covers important historical events in Scotland and several different overarching themes. Family. Loyalty. Forgiveness. Revenge. Love. Patriotism. There is so much covered in the book that you can (and I have!) read the book multiple times and learn something new each time. The book is a stunning piece of complex fiction that deserves a lot more recognition then it has had – I have nothing but praise for the way it’s written and the characters that have been created. This should be at the top of any reader’s list.

Would I recommend this book? YES

Favourite quote(s)?

“Lymond stirred. Sleek, cold, finely polished as his own steel, there was an air about him now that none of them had ever seen. ‘Very well,’ said the voice that sixty outlaws had known. ‘Since you offer, I’ll take it.’”

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