• Well Red

You'll be in love with Lymond by the end of this one!

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

Title: The Disorderly Knights

Author: Dorothy Dunnett

Originally published: 1966

Edition reviewed: 2017

Publisher: Penguin Random House UK

Rating: *****

Genre: Historical fiction

Setting: Europe – primarily Scotland and Malta in 1548, 1551 and onwards.

Difficulty: Difficult Pages: 542

Series: Yes. This is the third book in the series The Lymond Chronicles. The plot is continued in book four.

Always spoiler free. HOWEVER, this is the third book in a very complex series, so you may prefer not to read this review if you currently working your way through the series.

I have decided that there is one way to sum up this book: brutal. I have mixed feelings on The Disorderly Knights, because gosh, it’s a dense one. It crams a LOT of plot in. If you thought the first two books difficult, let me just reassure you…they gets harder! There’s a lot I can write around plot, but given my aim to always be spoiler free, I’m going to shy away from this (and writing too much about Dunnett’s mastery of character building because it gives away plot points).

The Disorderly Knights opens on events that took place before and after Queens’ Play, which can be jarring if you’re not going into the book aware of this fact. This choice allows Dunnett to set the scene for events that occur in the book, but it isn’t without its issues. It's just slightly strange for the reader (if reading novels back to back) to be revisiting a version of the character you left behind changed in book two.

The plot of this book is setting up everything that will play out for the rest of the series. This means there is a lot of plot and new characters to be introduced. It’s because of this that the book feels dense, even more so than the first two. But you also see a more well-rounded characterisation of Lymond because you see him through a vast array of viewpoints. This book has a large supporting cast, but I enjoyed this as they are all mostly given space to shine (or otherwise) as needed.

The book is neatly split into two parts. Lymond in Malta (essentially a set-up for characters and motives, but against a fabulous and action packed backdrop) and Lymond in Scotland. Lymond in Scotland has always been an infinitely more interesting read to me. The Scottish plot is the introduction of Lymond ‘The Leader’. This is ‘The Master’ from book one but now honed into something more. He’s become what those around him have been trying to mould him into (admittedly some characters were trying to do the opposite of this) since the end of book one.

Dunnett enjoys taking a hammer to Lymond’s flaws and watching the characters (including Lymond) deal with the fallout. She loves to follow through actions with devastating consequences, and make her characters face these in all their ugly glory. It’s a fascinating tactic, and something only really obvious if you have read the books multiple times. I say that because there is a sort of pattern in how Dunnett sets out the path for Lymond to take through her novels. However, the books never feel formulaic (i.e. Lymond does action A which leads to similar consequence B), probably because the plots and characters in all books are completely different.

Dunnett writes incredibly vivid, well-rounded characters for both genders which is a joy. She shines a light on human nature; her characters constantly make the wrong choice because of flaws in their nature or greed. Even the ‘good’ characters are not immune to having disagreeable character traits or making stupid choices. If there was any flaw in her writing of characters, it’s that they are nearly all are incredibly intelligent (except maybe Jerott. Poor Jerott).

For all his flaws, if you weren’t in love with Lymond by the end of Queens’ Play, you will by the end of this book. Shockingly, Lymond is nice in this book, if a touch self-sacrificing. Also, and trust me on this one, you will hate Dunnett by the end. Dunnett has never shied away from sacrificing characters, as well as causing severe emotional pain, but trust me, there are parts of this book that are utterly heart breaking (for the reader and Lymond). Some of these moments, in fact, come as mere throw away lines, which make them all the more devastating.

Lymond loves to play a game of strategy, and moves players around for his own benefit or perceived end game. In this book, it seems he may have finally met his own deadly match. The plot started in this book introduces actions and consequences that ripple across the rest of the books (and Lymond’s life) culminating in the final book. Here also you see the emergence of Lymond the adult (shaped by the past books). A fantastic read, as always.

Well Red Reviews

Would I recommend this book? Always

Favourite quote(s):

“‘What does anyone want out of life? What kind of freak do you suppose I am? I miss books and good verse and decent talk. I miss women, to speak to, not to rape; and children, and men creating things instead of destroying them. And from the time I wake until the time I find I can’t go to sleep there is the void—the bloody void where there was no music today and none yesterday and no prospect of any tomorrow, or tomorrow, or next God-damned year.”

“‘If you had told me before, you might not have decided to have me for a friend. I don’t mind,’ said Francis Crawford and told, for once, the bare truth.”

“She had, Philippa concluded, taken Cheese-wame Henderson with her: thus becoming the only known fugitive to persuade her bodyguard to run away, too.”

“Which meant that, had he wished, he could have escaped the flogging, at will.”

“‘The charitable assumption,’ said Alec Guthrie’s grating voice, ‘is that he didn’t intend his friends to be hurt in his quarrel. Also, he had reason to believe he could teach you a suitable lesson with a raging temperature and all four limbs paralysed.’”

“‘He thanked you. You wakened him, and it was horrible; and he thanked you.’”

“‘The trouble about Mr Crawford,’ said Kate, ‘is that he puts up with his enemies and plays merry hell with his friends.’”

“‘So this is the outcome of it all. This is why Tom Erskine preserved you; why…died and Gabriel has worked to redeem you…for this. Francis, I would sooner have discovered you dead.’”

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