I apologise for abandoning my blog this week – I’ve been very busy both at work and at home, and any spare time I did have was devoted to finishing Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. Because I read the final two books, The Ringed Castle and Checkmate so close together, rather than posting separate ‘reviews’ I decided to combine both books into the same post, along with some comments on the series as a whole.
Let’s start with the fifth book in the series, The Ringed Castle. After all the praise I’ve bestowed on the first four books it’s difficult to find new words to describe how I felt about this one, so suffice to say that it was as wonderful as the others. Russia is one of my favourite settings for historical fiction so I liked that aspect of the book, though I was equally interested in the chapters set at the Tudor court.
As with the previous novels, there’s a lot of history in this book – in the Russian sections we learn about Ivan IV, the Cossacks and the Crimean Tartars, and in the English sections we find ourselves at the centre of the conspiracies and political intrigue surrounding Queen Mary I and the future Elizabeth I. We also meet John Dee, the famous astrologer and mathematician, who is always interesting to read about, as well as another historical figure I knew nothing about: the explorer Richard Chancellor. Chancellor’s work with the Muscovy Company and as a navigator form quite a big part of the plot and I’m glad I’ve been able to learn something about his life and career. The final voyage of the Edward Bonaventure was so sad and one of the most memorable parts of the book for me.
Oh, and I loved the scene in the Hall of Revels, which finally led to the ‘Anvil Moment’ Aarti has been telling me about. And yes, it was worth waiting for!
When I started Checkmate, it was with a mixture of excitement at finding out how Lymond’s story would end and also sadness at the thought of reaching the end of the series. I was hoping to make the final book last as long as possible, but of course I couldn’t and it actually took less time to read than any of the others. In a series of unputdownable books, I found this one the most unputdownable of them all! I admit to having to cheat once or twice and flip forward a few pages, which is something I usually try not to do, but knowing from the previous books that Dorothy Dunnett had no qualms about killing off major characters, sometimes the suspense was just too much to bear.
Having said that, this wasn’t my favourite of the six books. There were parts that I loved – the chase through the streets of Lyon, the hilarious Hotel de Ville banquet, as well as finally learning the truth about Lymond’s birth – but overall I enjoyed some of the earlier books more. Still, I thought Checkmate was a great conclusion to the series and it was good to see so many of the characters from the previous books brought together in this one, including the return of Jerott, Marthe and one of my favourites, Archie Abernethy. And after The Ringed Castle, in which Lymond becomes more isolated than ever from his family, I was glad that Sybilla and Richard played such a big role in this book (it’s been fascinating to follow all the ups and downs of the relationship between Richard and Francis).
I’d like to finish by saying that I agree with all the Dorothy Dunnett readers who have been commenting on my previous Lymond posts – this is the best series of historical fiction novels I’ve ever read and I can see why so many of you have been re-reading them for decades because I’m sure I’ll be doing the same. And for anyone who has yet to read these books, I can promise you that although they’re not the easiest of reads, it’s definitely worth making the effort and getting to know Francis Crawford of Lymond, one of the most complex, charismatic, fascinating characters you’re ever likely to meet in literature. Working through the six books of the Lymond Chronicles has been one of the greatest experiences in my lifetime of reading.