Top Ten Tuesday: Lines from Lymond

This week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is:

Inspirational/Thought-Provoking Book Quotes

There are so many quotes I find thought-provoking or inspirational from various books that I really didn’t know where to begin, so I decided to narrow things down slightly by choosing ten from my favourite series, The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett. I say ‘slightly’ because all six of these books are worth quoting in full, in my opinion! Anyway, here is a selection…


1. “You cannot love any one person adequately until you have made friends with the rest of the human race also. Adult love demands qualities which cannot be learned living in a vacuum of resentment.”


2. “I despised men who accepted their fate. I shaped mine twenty times and had it broken twenty times in my hands.”
The Game of Kings


3. “Lack of genius never held anyone back,” said Lymond. “Only time wasted on resentment and daydreaming can do that.”
Queens’ Play


4. “Man is a being of varied, manifold and inconstant nature. And woman, by God, is a match for him.”
The Disorderly Knights


5. “I don’t like this war. I don’t like the cold-blooded scheming at the beginning and the carnage at the end and the grumbling and the jealousies and the pettishness in the middle. I hate the lack of gallantry and grace; the self-seeking; the destruction of valuable people and things. I believe in danger and endeavour as a form of tempering but I reject it if this is the only shape it can take.”
The Game of Kings


6. “Man is not intellect only,” Guthrie said. “Not until you reject all the claims of your body. Not until you have stamped out, little by little, all that is left of your soul.”
The Ringed Castle


7. “Remember, some live all their lives without discovering this truth; that the noblest and most terrible power we possess is the power we have, each of us, over the chance-met, the stranger, the passer-by outside your life and your kin. Speak, she said, as you would write: as if your words were letters of lead, graven there for all time, for which you must take the consequences. And take the consequences.”
Queens’ Play


8. “The more modest your expectations, the less often you will court disappointment.”


9. “I ask for no apology,” said Míkál. “I ask nothing but kindness.”
“I have learned,” said Lymond, “that kindness without love is no kindness.”
Pawn in Frankincense


10. “Today,” said Lymond, “if you must know, I don’t like living at all. But that’s just immaturity boggling at the sad face of failure. Tomorrow I’ll be bright as a bedbug again.”
The Disorderly Knights


What are your favourite lines from your favourite books?

Historical Musings #40: Reading Dorothy Dunnett

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction. After doing something slightly different in June with an attempt at completing the I-Spy book cover challenge, I’m returning to my guides to individual authors and their work. Previously I have written about Elizabeth Chadwick, Anya Seton and Edward Rutherfurd; this month it’s the turn of one of my absolute favourite authors of historical fiction – Dorothy Dunnett. If you have been following my blog for a while, you will probably have noticed that I never miss an opportunity to mention Dunnett’s novels and how wonderful they are, so you won’t be surprised to hear that she is the author I have been most looking forward to featuring here.

Dorothy Dunnett was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1923 and died in 2001. You can find out more about her life and work at the Dorothy Dunnett Society website.

I read my first Dunnett novel in February 2012 and just over a year later I had read all fifteen of her historical novels – the six books that form her Lymond Chronicles, the eight in her other series, The House of Niccolò, and her standalone novel, King Hereafter. She also wrote a series of contemporary mystery novels, but I am still working through those, and for the purposes of this post I will concentrate on her historical fiction only.

If you’ve never read Dunnett before you will be wondering where you need to begin. My recommendation would be to start in the same place that I started – with The Game of Kings, the first book in the Lymond Chronicles. I have seen some people suggest that Niccolò Rising is more accessible and easier to read, and perhaps it is, but I personally didn’t find it quite the stunning, unforgettable read that The Game of Kings was.

The Lymond Chronicles

This series of six novels, published between 1961 and 1975, follow the adventures of Scottish nobleman Francis Crawford of Lymond in 16th century Europe and beyond. Here are my reviews of the books:

The Game of Kings
Queens’ Play
The Disorderly Knights
Pawn in Frankincense
The Ringed Castle

I think my comments on finishing the series back in April 2012 say everything that needs to be said:

“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 has been one of the greatest experiences in my lifetime of reading.”

The House of Niccolò

Dunnett’s second series, published from 1986 to 2000, is longer and, if such a thing is possible, even more complex and intricately plotted. It follows the rise in fortunes of Nicholas de Fleury, whom we first meet as a dyer’s apprentice in 15th century Bruges.

This is what I had to say after finishing the last book in 2013. As you can see, I did love this series too, but not quite as much:

“I’ve really enjoyed working my way through this series, but the House of Niccolò hasn’t had quite the same effect on me as the Lymond Chronicles, mainly because Nicholas himself, to me, is a less appealing character than Lymond – though I know others will disagree…Still, I did love the series as a whole and am looking forward to reading all the books again and looking out for some of the things I know I missed during the first read.”

The eight books, again with links to my reviews, are:

Niccolò Rising
The Spring of the Ram
Race of Scorpions
Scales of Gold
The Unicorn Hunt
To Lie With Lions
Caprice and Rondo

Dunnett’s own advice was apparently to read The Lymond Chronicles first then The House of Niccolò, then Lymond again in order to pick up on the links between the two series (and they are linked in some very clever ways, although I won’t say any more about that here). I can almost guarantee you will want to read Dunnett’s books more than once anyway. There are so many layers that it’s impossible to fully understand everything the first time and re-reading will allow you to pick up on some of the things you missed.

The Dorothy Dunnett Companion and The Dorothy Dunnett Companion II

The amount of time and effort you want to put into reading these books depends on how much you’re hoping to get out of them. If, like me, you find that you want to shed more light on the literary allusions, fragments of poetry and appearances by real historical figures, both famous and obscure, help is at hand – the two-volume Dorothy Dunnett Companion provides translations, explanations, maps and sources.

King Hereafter

Dunnett’s only standalone historical novel is based around the idea that Macbeth, the 11th century King of Alba (Scotland), and Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney, were one and the same. King Hereafter is the result of a huge amount of research and as with all of Dunnett’s novels the writing is excellent. I can’t recommend this book highly enough!

My review of King Hereafter from 2013.


I have attempted to give a good overview of Dunnett’s work here, without going into too much detail. I hope I’ve succeeded! Next month I will be choosing another historical fiction author to feature, but for now I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Dorothy Dunnett…

Have you read any of her novels? If not, would you like to? And if you have, how did you discover them? Which of her books are your favourites? What can you say to encourage new readers to try Dunnett for the first time?

Rum Affair by Dorothy Dunnett – #1968Club

I am, after all, the only really photogenic coloratura soprano alive. My only problem, just about then, was in staying alive.

It’s been a while since I read my first of Dorothy Dunnett’s Johnson Johnson mysteries and this week’s 1968 Club (hosted by Simon and Karen) seemed the perfect opportunity to read another one. Rum Affair – originally titled Dolly and the Singing Bird and then The Photogenic Soprano – was the first in the series to be published (in 1968 obviously), although Tropical Issue, the other one I’ve read, was the first chronologically.

Dunnett is better known for her historical novels, some of which have recently been reissued, but the seven books in her mystery series have contemporary settings. They are each narrated by a different young woman and all feature the portrait painter Johnson Johnson and his yacht Dolly.

Rum Affair opens with Tina Rossi, a Polish-Italian opera singer, arriving in Scotland where she is due to give two performances at the Edinburgh Festival. During a break in her schedule, she has arranged to meet her lover, Kenneth Holmes, at his friend’s Rose Street flat. However, there’s no sign of Kenneth – just a card with the three handwritten words, “Darling, I’m sorry”. Searching for clues to explain his absence, Tina opens a wardrobe door to reveal the body of a man, a stranger, who has been shot in the chest. When the police unexpectedly arrive, making enquiries about a robbery in the neighbourhood, she quickly makes the decision to conceal what has happened – to try to save her own reputation, she tells us, and Kenneth’s.

Instinct is a marvellous thing, I dare say; but I prefer to use my good sense. You, perhaps, with a strange man lying dead at your feet would have welcomed the police with an exhibition of nervous relief. I, on the other hand, kept my head.

On the same night, Tina’s path crosses for the first time with that of Johnson, who is staying nearby. Tina is immediately intrigued by Johnson, a mysterious man who wears bifocals and introduces himself as “thirty-eight. Painter. London. On holiday.” When Johnson invites her to join him on a yacht race to the Isle of Rum, she is quick to accept. Rum is where Kenneth is currently based, working on a highly sensitive project for his employers, although she doesn’t admit this to Johnson. However, it seems that Johnson has a reason of his own for wanting Tina to sail with him on board Dolly – and it’s not just so that he can paint her portrait!

I won’t go into any more detail regarding the plot because I wouldn’t like to inadvertently give too much away and spoil the mystery – and I don’t want to say much more about Tina Rossi either as I’m finding that part of the fun of reading the Johnson novels is in getting to know the woman who is narrating the story. What I will say is that Tina is very different from Rita Geddes of Tropical Issue and that their narrative voices reflect their different personalities and backgrounds (while I liked Rita immediately, I never connected with Tina at all, but I suppose you can’t like every character in every book). As for Johnson himself, even though I have now read two books in this series, he is still very much an enigma to me. Of course, we only see him through the eyes of the narrators so we only know what they choose to tell us and are reliant on their observations and interpretations of his character, which may not always be correct or true.

I also found the setting interesting; the race in which Johnson and Tina are participating takes them around the west coast of Scotland, visiting several islands of the Inner Hebrides, of which Rum is one.

In the summer night, the Inner Hebrides lay all about us, black on the indigo sea. Above us, the uninterrupted sky stretched, a light, dense ultramarine, its ghostly clouds and small, sharp white stars suspended over the bright winking lights, near and far, of a constellation of lighthouses, and the grey, dimly voyaging waves here below.

I particularly enjoyed the scenes set at Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa!

Although I don’t think these books come close to the brilliance of Dunnett’s Lymond or Niccolò series, or King Hereafter, they are still quite enjoyable in a different way. I am looking forward to reading the rest and meeting the other five narrators.

Lymond is back!

Today sees the reissue in the UK and Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand of The Lymond Chronicles, Dorothy Dunnett’s wonderful six-volume series following the 16th century adventures of Francis Crawford of Lymond. As Dunnett is one of my favourite authors, I couldn’t let this day pass unmarked on my blog!

Originally published in 1961, The Game of Kings is the first of the Lymond novels, and little did I know, when I picked it up for the first time in 2012 and read that opening line “Lymond is back”, that I was about to embark on the most enjoyable – and emotional – reading experience of my life.

What do you think of the new Penguin covers?

Dunnett’s standalone novel set in 11th century Orkney and Scotland, King Hereafter, has also been reissued today, although we will have to wait until 2018 for her other series, The House of Niccolò, to be given the same treatment.

You can find more information on the reissues here and you may also find the Dorothy Dunnett Society website of interest. There’s an article about Lymond in today’s Guardian too.

Finally, if you prefer your books in ebook format, Amazon UK currently have the Kindle version of The Game of Kings available for £0.99.

Happy reading!

Tropical Issue by Dorothy Dunnett

Tropical Issue Having read all of Dorothy Dunnett’s six-volume Lymond Chronicles, eight-volume House of Niccolò series and her standalone novel, King Hereafter, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I picked up one of her Johnson Johnson mystery novels. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was starting with the right book, as Tropical Issue (originally titled Dolly and the Bird of Paradise – Dolly being the name of Johnson’s yacht and the ‘bird’ being the female narrator of the story) was actually the sixth to be published. I had discovered, though, that it is also the first chronologically, so it seemed like a good place to start.

Our narrator is Rita Geddes, a Scottish make-up artist with a punk hairstyle (the book was published in 1983 and I should point out here that unlike the rest of Dunnett’s books, these were contemporary novels rather than historical ones). Rita’s latest client is the journalist and celebrity Natalie Sheridan and at the beginning of the novel Rita is in London preparing Natalie for a photo shoot with the photographer, Ferdy Braithwaite. Ferdy has borrowed his friend Johnson Johnson’s studio flat to use for the session and in this way, Rita meets Johnson for the first time. Not that she learns much about Johnson during this first meeting, other than that he is recuperating after being seriously injured in a plane crash – and that he is a portrait painter, has black hair and wears bifocal glasses.

Joining Natalie for another job on the island of Madeira, Rita learns that the life of her friend and fellow make-up artist Kim-Jim Curtis could be in danger. And when Johnson and his yacht, Dolly, also arrive in Madeira, a mystery unfolds which is complex, surprising and takes the reader through a range of exotic locations from the banana plantations of Barbados to the volcanic craters of St Lucia. As with all good mystery novels, you’ll need to pay attention as things which may seem irrelevant at first turn out to be important later in the book.

I liked the character of Rita from the beginning. She has a very distinctive narrative voice, with her strong personality coming across in every sentence – how can you not love a character who thinks, when disturbed by an intruder in the night, “I rather wished I was wearing something handier than a quilt, but if all else failed, I could smother the guy if I caught him”? As for Johnson, it was difficult not to want to make comparisons with Dunnett’s other heroes, Lymond, Nicholas and Thorfinn, but really, while they do all share some characteristics, there are also some big differences between them. However, I do think there were a lot of similarities in the way Dunnett introduces his character to us – viewing him only through the eyes of other people (in this case Rita), with his true thoughts and motives often being obscured and misinterpreted.

While I love all of Dorothy Dunnett’s other books, I can’t really say that I loved this one – but I did enjoy it. It took me a while to really get into the story, but after a few chapters I was won over by a wild and wonderful sledge race to rival the ostrich ride in Niccolò Rising. It made a nice change, in a way, to be able to read a Dunnett novel without becoming too emotionally involved in the lives of the characters! I don’t feel the same compulsion to immediately read the rest of the series as I did with Lymond and Niccolo, but it’s good to know that there are still another six books to look forward to.

King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett

King Hereafter “Then she said, ‘Thorfinn!’ quickly, and moved to him; but had hardly got to his side before he loosed his fingers and thumbs and plunged them down to the mattress like spear-points.
‘No! Macbeth. Macbeth. Macbeth!’ The name reached her like sling-shot.
Groa said, ‘They are the same man. I should know. I married both.’”

I couldn’t wait to read this book having loved Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles and House of Niccolo series so much when I read them last year. King Hereafter, her only standalone historical novel, is set in eleventh-century Orkney and Scotland (known at that time as Alba) and is based around the idea that Macbeth, the historical King of Alba, and Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney, were the same person – Macbeth being Thorfinn’s baptismal name. Whether that might be true or not, the case she puts forward in this book is very convincing and obviously the result of an enormous amount of research. The novel follows Thorfinn throughout his entire life and along the way there are battles, both on land and at sea, fires, storms, births, deaths, political intrigue and even a race across the oars of a longboat. We also meet other historical figures of the time including King Canute and Lady Godiva – but at the heart of the story, for me, is Thorfinn’s love for his wife, Groa.

I loved this book, although the combination of unfamiliar history, complex politics and intricate relationships between the characters meant that it required a huge amount of concentration and a lot of referring to the centre pages of the book which contained three maps of Orkney, Alba and England, and two family trees. I would have been completely lost without these maps and charts; I found myself consulting them constantly – and even then there were some relationships that still weren’t quite clear to me. Added to the fact that my edition of the book had 880 pages (not the same as the one pictured here, by the way), it seemed to take me nearly as long to read this one book as it did to read the entire Lymond Chronicles! That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, when a book is as good as this one is.

Before I go any further I should point out that King Hereafter is not a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and there is really very little resemblance between Dunnett’s story and Shakespeare’s, although she does quote from the play in the section headings and there are some references to events that are also in the play, such as ‘Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane’. Some of the basic plot points are the same – yes, Thorfinn/Macbeth becomes King of Alba after the death of King Duncan, for example, but the circumstances surrounding Duncan’s death are very different from the murder Shakespeare describes. And thankfully, Groa is a far more likeable character than Lady Macbeth. The three witches don’t appear either, though instead we have Groa’s son, Lulach, and his prophecies (I suspect that to really be able to make any sense of most of Lulach’s cryptic comments you need to know how the rest of the story is going to play out and to be familiar with some of the historical sources too).

I loved Thorfinn from his very first appearance. I could see some similarities between Thorfinn and Dunnett’s other heroes, Lymond and Nicholas, but in other ways he is quite different. This is the moment we meet him for the first time as a child, seen through the eyes of his foster father, Thorkel Fostri:

“Not the complaining Earl Brusi. Not the lovely young Rognvald his son. But a scowling juvenile, thin as a half-knotted thong, with a monstrous brow topped by a whisk of black hair over two watering eyes, thick as acorns.
It raised one arm and called. Its voice had not even started to break.

‘Thorfinn,’ said Thorkel, and the word itself was a groan. Here in Norway, here in Nídarós, here on King Olaf’s jetty was the child-Earl of Caithness and Orkney. His foster-son.”

We soon see that Thorfinn’s unattractive exterior hides a shrewd brain, great physical ability, wit, courage and, although we are told that he never laughs, a wry sense of humour too. He is capable of all the plotting, scheming and negotiating that is necessary to keep up with the ever-changing rivalries and alliances between various leaders, while also dealing with the threats from England, Norway and Denmark and trying to do what is best for his people of Orkney, Caithness, Moray and the rest of Alba. As with Lymond and Nicholas we are rarely given the privilege of getting inside Thorfinn’s head; instead we see him mostly from the perspective of the people around him, which can be either insightful or misleading depending on how well these viewpoint characters understand him.

Groa is a great character too and is now one of my favourite female characters in all of Dunnett’s novels. The story of how she and Thorfinn come to love and understand each other is beautifully written and it was wonderful to watch their relationship develop over the course of the novel. Apart from the relationship between Thorfinn and Groa, the other one I found particularly fascinating and complex was the relationship between Thorfinn and his nephew, Rognvald. The encounters between the two of them throughout the first half of the book provided what, for me, were some of the most dramatic and exciting scenes in the book.

Thorfinn does have a lot of ambition, but unlike Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it’s not because he’s looking for personal glory or has been encouraged by his ruthless Lady; his ambition is to improve life in his lands and give his people a strong ruler, uniting the disparate, diverse tribes of Orkney and Alba under a common religion and common laws. On the subject of religion, I did get very confused somewhere in Part 3, where Thorfinn visits Pope Leo in Rome. Actually, a lot of the religious aspects of the story in general confused me and that’s something I would attempt to understand better on a re-read. I tried not to worry too much about the things I couldn’t understand on this first read and instead concentrated on getting to know Thorfinn, Groa and the other characters, and enjoying the beautiful writing. The descriptions of the landscapes of Orkney and Alba are so vivid and evocative. This is one that I particularly loved:

They entered Loch Bracadale with the sunrise, rose-coloured oars laying darkling folds on the rose-tinted pool of the fjord. A dusting of guillemots, asleep on the water, roused and dived with almost no sound, leaving pink and verdigris rings on the surface. A charcoal rock needled with cormorants became suddenly bare, and from the shore came the scalloped cry of an oyster-catcher, joined after a moment by others. Then the longships slid past, and the sounds died away.

Although the Lymond Chronicles are still my favourites, I can definitely see why some people would consider this Dorothy Dunnett’s best book. It’s amazingly detailed and well-researched, as well as being a very powerful and emotional story. The only problem with reading a book like this is that when you know there can only be one outcome to the story and that there’s no chance of a happy ending, it makes the build-up to the conclusion difficult to read. The end of Thorfinn’s story was inevitable but still heartbreakingly sad.

I’m sorry I don’t have any more of Dunnett’s historical novels to look forward to, but I will try her Johnson Johnson mystery series at some point – and like all of Dunnett’s books I’m sure re-reading King Hereafter in the future will also be a rewarding experience!

Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett

Gemini In June last year, having finished the final book of the Lymond Chronicles in April, I picked up Niccolò Rising and embarked on Dorothy Dunnett’s second historical series, the House of Niccolò. And now here I am, seven months and eight books later, at the end of Gemini and finding it hard to believe that there are no more adventures of either Lymond or Nicholas left for me to discover. There will be re-reads, of course, but it does make me sad that I can’t read any of these books for the first time again.

*Spoilers follow for both the House of Niccolo and the Lymond Chronicles*

Geographically, unlike the last few Niccolò books where the action switched between a variety of different settings, Gemini is focused mainly on one location: Scotland. After causing damage to the Scottish economy in the course of his long-running contest with his wife, Gelis, Nicholas has returned to try to make amends. Soon after his arrival in Scotland, Nicholas finds himself having to contend with a possible inherited illness (porphyria?) afflicting the royal family, trying to handle the King’s wild and unpredictable younger brother, John of Mar, and attempting to thwart a rebellion by the King’s other brother, the Duke of Albany. With Nicholas’s two biggest enemies, his grandfather, Jordan de St Pol of Kilmirren, and his former trading rival, Davie Simpson, also in Scotland, Gelis stays behind for a while in the relative safety of Bruges with their son, Jordan. But it’s not long before she and Jordan are in Edinburgh too and the eighth and final volume of the House of Niccolò starts to head towards its conclusion.

I did love Gemini overall, but I confess to getting a little bit bored with the political aspects of the novel. It’s not that I don’t find this period of history interesting and important, because I do – it’s just that at this late stage in the series, and especially as I began to reach the end of the book, I was too impatient to slow down and concentrate on all the details. I’m sure on a future re-read I’ll be able to appreciate this side of the novel more, but on this first read I was desperate to see how Nicholas’s personal story would be resolved and to have some of my questions answered.

I found Simon’s and Henry’s deaths particularly moving, though not so much for their sakes as for Nicholas’s, though I did feel slightly cheated when I realised that Simon was never going to acknowledge Nicholas as his son, and that neither Simon nor Henry were ever going to find out the truth about Henry’s parentage – I think I had expected there to be a big confrontation at the end of the book where everything would be revealed. I suppose it’s not the first time in a Dunnett novel that things haven’t turned out the way I had been anticipating! I was also a bit disappointed that a true reconciliation between Henry and Nicholas never happened, despite there seeming to be some steps in that direction earlier in the book.

I get the impression that opinion is divided over the Epilogue with some readers finding it unnecessary, but personally I liked it and was pleased to see that some of the links with the Lymond Chronicles were explained at last. Although I’ve been doing my best to avoid spoilers while reading this series I must have picked up somewhere that Rankin was Lymond’s father because I had that at the back of my mind, but I was completely confused as to how Rankin of Berecrofts could possibly be the same person as Francis Crawford, 1st Baron Culter. As for Sybilla’s parents, I had guessed that Jordan was probably her father, though I had no idea about the identity of her mother. I had been coming up with various theories about the significance of Bel of Cuthilgurdy, but not the right one.

Now for one of the most shocking revelations of the novel: Julius. I didn’t like him and had started to suspect there might be more to him than met the eye, but even though his mother’s name was there in the family tree at the front of the book, it had never occurred to me that there was any connection and when it was revealed it took me completely by surprise. When I get around to reading this series again I will certainly be looking for clues about Julius and paying more attention to everything he says and does in the earlier novels!

*End of spoilers*

I’ve really enjoyed working my way through this series, but the House of Niccolò hasn’t had quite the same effect on me as the Lymond Chronicles, mainly because Nicholas himself, to me, is a less appealing character than Lymond – though I know others will disagree. While I was reading the Lymond Chronicles (and sometimes even now, a year later) I was thinking and worrying about Lymond all the time, even when I was away from the books, but I never really connected with Nicholas on the same level. Still, I did love the series as a whole and am looking forward to reading all the books again and looking out for some of the things I know I missed during the first read. I’ve also bought a copy of King Hereafter and will be reading that at some point, but first I’m spending some time catching up on all the non-Dunnett books I’ve been neglecting over the last year!