Queens’ Play is the second of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. A few weeks ago I talked about how much I loved the first in the series, The Game of Kings, and I’m pleased to report that I enjoyed this one too, though maybe not quite as much. I never know how to write about the second book in a series as it’s very difficult to discuss it without giving away some of the things that happened in the previous book. So, while I’ll do my best to avoid spoiling too much, if you haven’t already read The Game of Kings then you might prefer to do so before reading any more of my posts on the series.
Queens’ Play starts two years after the end of The Game of Kings. Mary of Guise, the mother of seven-year-old Mary Queen of Scots, has asked Francis Crawford of Lymond to join them in France and help to protect the little Queen from a plot against her life. However, Lymond’s face and name are too well known in France and so he goes undercover, disguised as one of a party of Irishmen who are visiting the French court.
As with The Game of Kings, I was very impressed by the complexity of the characters and the intricate twists and turns of the plot, but Queens’ Play also gives us a vivid depiction of the court of Henri II with its splendour, extravagance and corruption. There are plenty of exciting, dramatic scenes and set pieces too – Lymond’s adventures in France include a hunt involving a cheetah and a wolfhound, a moonlit race across the rooftops of Blois, a wrestling match (I would never have thought I could find wrestling so thrilling to read about!), stampeding elephants and more than one attempted poisoning.
In the time between finishing Queens’ Play and posting this review I have been reading the third book, The Disorderly Knights (halfway through at the moment and loving it), and I’m already starting to see the importance of Queens’ Play in the context of the series. We are introduced to some new recurring characters and Lymond also learns a lot of important lessons in France – as well as battling some personal demons, he starts to understand what it means to be a leader, to care for the men under your control and to take responsibility for what happens to them.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I thought Queens’ Play was a great book but I didn’t love it as much as I loved The Game of Kings. I think part of the problem was that at the end of The Game of Kings I had felt we were finally starting to see the real Francis Crawford, yet almost from the very beginning of Queens’ Play he was pretending to be somebody else – and although I was still enjoying the story, I wanted Lymond, not his alter ego. Still, as far as I can tell, a lot of people consider this to be the weakest book in the series, so if that’s true I’m really looking forward to the others!