Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Game of Kings

Title: The Game of Kings
Author: Dorothy Dunnett
Series: The Lymond Chronicles, book 1
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 1961
Rating: 7/10

Review: I picked up The Game of Kings expecting it to be a quick and entertaining read. However the book both disappointed and exceeded my expectations. I haven't read something I have felt this conflicted about for a long time.

At first I found this book to be a really slow going. There are historical battles, skirmishes, and maneuvers going on throughout the book that I really didn't care much about and the number of characters and their politics make the book pretty confusing. Worst of all is probably the language in which the book is written is imitating an old-English style and at times I just had to guess what the author is trying to say. Oh, and not to forget countless French, Spanish, and Latin quotations throughout. Here's an example of a passage early in the book:
"Softly, softly! Remember your superior upbringing, and your Caxton. How gentlemen shall be known from Churls. Don't be a Churl, Marigold. Full of sloth in his wars, full of boast in his manhood, full of cowardice to his enemy, full of lechery to his body, full of drinking and drunkenness. Revoking his own challenge; slaying his prisoner with his own hands; riding from his sovereign's banner in the field; telling his sovereign false tales..."
This is the style in which the main character, Lymond talks throughout the book and while comprehensible, it's often not the easiest dialogue to understand.

Nevertheless, despite all the issues I had with the novel from very early on there was something to the story that really hooked me in and urged me to continue reading. The chapters are chess-themed and represent various intrigues in the novel. And I have to admit to the book being intricately plotted. Things come together in some very interesting ways towards the end of the novel and I really liked all the twists and turns the book ended up taking.

The second half of the book went much faster than the first. I guess I got used to the writing style and finally started to tell who's who in the book and started enjoying some of the characters a whole lot more than I did at the beginning. I don't think I picked up much in terms of history beyond the fact that Scotts and English fought a whole lot in 1540s, but that wasn't my main objective anyways. The story ended up being worth reading and I would probably recommend this novel to anyone who likes a good intrigue and is willing to put up with the thorny writing style.


  1. That writing style would be a turn off for me. And the multiple language thing is a headache if over used.

    1. I mostly just ignored the other languages since they seem to be for flavor only.