This second book of the Lymond Saga opens in 1550, two years after the events described in ‘The Game of Kings’.
Mary of Guise, queen dowager and regent of Scotland is planning a journey to France; to visit her eight-year-old daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, who is being brought up at Henri II’s court as the affianced bride of the Dauphin. She knows that the fate of Scotland is tied up with the fate of its young queen, and her she has been given reason to believe that her child is in danger.
She is right to be concerned.
She knows that there are some very unscrupulous people in and around the French Court and that the English and the Irish in particular would seize any chance to break the alliance between France and Scotland. Queen Mary of England is struggling to contain the Protestant movement and keep her land as a strong Catholic power, and she knows that the alliance will make that more difficult to achieve. The Irish want to end of the English occupation of their country, they need France to help them and they are ready to use any means necessary ….
Francis Crawford of Lymond, newly restored to favour, is the man that the queen dowager wants to accompany her to France, and to uncover any plots against the little Queen. Her advisers counsel against that, they warn her that he would not agree, that he was not biddable, that he would too recognizable to the French; but she is quite certain that he is the best man for the job and she agrees to his terms – that he may carry out the job as he sees fit.
Given such a charge, most men would travel discreetly, live quietly, and observe the court from the sidelines; but that is not Lymond’s way. He sets about winning a place at the very centre of the court, hiding in plain sight, and putting himself in a position influence people and events – and to reveal the machinations of all of the interested parties. It was intriguing to watch as Lymond stepped into and between fraught political alliances and schemes, knowing that any one of them could pose a threat to Queen Mary’s life – and that the slightest misstep could herald the end of his own life.
I found the difference in scale and perspective interesting when I compared this book with ‘The Game of Kings.’ On one hand this book was concerned with greater matters – affairs of state and the future of countries rather than one man’s future – but on the other hand it felt smaller and more enclosed, in the confines of the court rather than moving freely and at will.
That gave a different perspective on Lymond, a different view of his many accomplishments, his skill at managing people and situations, his resourcefulness and the resources he had to draw upon …. but because he was playing a role for most of this book I can’t say that I understand too much more at the end than I did at the beginning, or that I am at all sure where the performance ends and the person behind it begins.
That plot is complex, multi-stranded, and so cleverly constructed. I couldn’t say that I had a good grasp of what was going on, but I was captivated by wonderfully rich and detailed writing; by a wealth of scenes that had different tones and different tempos but were all quite perfectly painted; and the set pieces were dazzling. There’s a near disaster at sea, a stampede of elephants, a wrestling match and – best of all – a moonlit roof-top race that I could quite happily re-read and re-live time and time again.
The court of Henry II was so well evoked; and I loved the cinematic sweep as well as perfectly framed close-ups. There is such a wealth of detail that makes up the bigger picture, I’m sure that I missed things, that a second read will reveal more, but this book lived and breathed and I know that I have to read on, to find out what happens next and understand where this series of books is going.
I was unsettled at first by the loss of so many characters from the first book who I thought would be of continuing importance, and I am not sure that this book – caught up with one particular quest – moved things forward too much and that means that I have to say that I couldn’t love this book as much as I loved ‘The Game of Kings.’
I’m sure that it has a purpose – I think saw seeds being sown – I think I met characters who will move forward, beyond this story- and it might be that I will appreciate it more when I see its place in the series as a whole.
And I think I need to stop writing and go back to reading ….
7 thoughts on “Queens’ Play by Dorothy Dunnett (1964)”
I’m glad you enjoyed this so much. Your review almost exactly describes my own feelings the first time I read it – I missed the characters from the first book too and I was frustrated that, after catching a glimpse of what I thought must be the real Lymond at the end of The Game of Kings, he spends most of this book playing yet another different role. By the time I reached the end of the series, I had a better understanding of how this one fits in and how it forms an important part of the story.
This one sounds interesting to me and as I have never read the Game of Kings, I hope I won’t be disappointed in comparing it.
At one stage, I planned to read the entire Lymond sequence, but after enjoying A Game of Kings so much, I found I could hardly get started with Queen’s Play – and there I stuck. One day… perhaps!
Oh I really must get around to The Game of Kings – perhaps a good holiday read? Especially as this second book looks great too!
My mother read this one first (she actually began reading it the day I started nursery school). She didn’t even realize it was a sequel initially but as she was already a 16th century fan she was immediately won over. I can see it would change your attitude toward Lymond to already know him as a diplomat (of sorts). By the time I was in high school and started the series myself I had already absorbed a lot about Lymond from her and her friends . . .
I can see that this one would stand up on its own, and I suspect I shall love and want to re-read all of the books once I’ve seen the bigger picture.
How recently was it that you read A Game of Kings? I have the feeling that this is a series one should read in relatively quick succession?
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