I came back this year promising Lymond and have so far delivered none…. so here goes:

An infamous man returns to sixteenth-century Scotland. Six years previous he sold secrets to the English that almost destroyed the Scottish army, and rumour hints at darker and worse.

The first thing he does on his return is to nick all his brother’s silver and set the house on fire – with the mother he hasn’t seen for six years still inside.

So begins the story of the best anti-hero I have ever read.

Lymond is charismatic and intelligent – he comes complete with obscure literary references for any and all occasions – and incredibly cold. This uncanny self-possession that encases the mind and soul of a genius is just as compelling to a reader as it is to his various followers and detractors.

It isn’t an easy to series to get into, because within the first pages you encounter that odd sensation of having to really think, just to figure out what’s going on. As Lymond and his Machiavellian schemes unroll with stunning precision, so the reading experience becomes a quest to connect the dots and apply your mind to the riddle of the subtext.

Two characters have an ordinary conversation. One reacts in an extreme way. Stop. Rewind. What the hell were they actually talking about?

This happens to me all the time, reading Lymond.

Because Dunnett is a genius for plotting and for inscrutable, irresistible characters, I’m going to follow up with a series of posts trying to figure out how the hell she does it.

About anna cowan

I look around, and here I am - housewife and aspiring romance novelist. This seems unexpected.
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12 Responses to Lymond

  1. Alex says:

    Dorothy Dunnett is a genius. I think I’ve burned more brain fat reading her books that any others. The first two were very hard going (especially the Queen’s Play – half of the time I had no idea what was going on), but then you get entranced.

    What’s your favorite of the series? I really, really liked The Disorderly Knights (nothing like a good villain!), but Pawn has the most amazing atmosphere, and of course, it’s when Philippa becomes together as a character.

    • I’ve just started on The Ringed Castle, so I can’t say yet… 🙂

      I’ve absolutely loved them all so far, and as they’re each so different it feels like I can love them equally. Pawn I found really hard going, because it’s such a full-on, unrelenting book. And then there’s the chess game, of course. Oh my heart.

      It does make it a bit hard to go back to other books and feel like “Oh yawn, here this thing’s happening, and now I’m obviously meant to feel this about that character, who’s obviously just done that.”

      I love her.

      Luckily, because you don’t generally know what the hell’s going on until the last part of the book, the series definitely invites a re-read!

      • Alex says:

        I’m now slowly going through the Niccolo series and I have King Hereafter already in the shelf. Then I’m definitely go back to Lymond. I suspect it’ll be at least 5 years before I manage, but even so, it will be interesting to see if I feel differently about it.

        Regarding The Ringed Castle, I remember emailing a friend complaining about it. I felt so far from Lymond, he seemed even more distant than usual, so it made me more frustrated than usual. But then it hit me: that’s how Dunnett wants me to feel: the cold, the distance. It was how Lymond himself wanted others to perceive him – he WAS a Ringed Castle. And then I once again bowed my head to her genius 🙂

      • haha, exactly! I feel absolutely sympathetic to his every attempt to be a machine and not a man. He deserves a little break from his life, I think 😉

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