The Game of Kings, Dorothy Dunnett, G P Putnam's Sons, 1961, 543 pp
Note: I have some free time this week, something I've not had much of recently. So I am going to pour on the posts in an attempt to get caught up on all the books I have been reading. I hope I don't subtract too much from whatever free time you have!
Summary from Goodreads:
Dunnett introduces her irresistible hero Francis Crawford of Lymond, a scapegrace nobleman of elastic morals and dangerous talents whose tongue is as sharp as his rapier. In 1547 Lymond is returning to his native Scotland, which is threatened by an English invasion. Accused of treason, Lymond leads a band of outlaws in a desperate race to redeem his reputation and save his land.
This was the most challenging book I read in October. Normally I read about 30 pages an hour. It took me three days to read 119 pages and six more days to finish. In the end, it was also one of the most rewarding.
The barriers to my reading speed were the time period (1547 was not a known time to me), the humongous list of characters (though thankfully a character list is provided), the politics between Scotland and England in that time, and a fairly convoluted plot. With quite a bit of help from the internet, I conquered all!
A Game of Kings is the first in Dorothy Dunnett's six book series, The Lymond Chronicles. Francis Crawford of Lymond is a fantastic character whom I now intend to follow to the end of the series. He reminded me of one of my favorite Neal Stephenson characters, Jack Shaftoe from his Baroque Cycle trilogy.
Francis is a wily, outrageous, determined patriot of Scotland, carrying deep personal burdens, who comes within inches of being hanged by his own people. It is as though he embodies all the evil of those he fights against. He understands the craven qualities of his enemies so completely that he defeats them by aping them.
I learned a lot more than Scottish history by reading and figuring out The Game of Kings. It was an education in how to read. If I want to read such deep and twisty historical books (and I do), I have to put in some work of my own. 16th century Scotland had many differences from present day America.
A big theme in the book is chess and I have never mastered that game's intricacies, but I was forced to understand it a bit better as Dunnett uses it as a metaphor for the times when kings and queens ruled the world.
So, thank you to Dorothy Dunnett (1923-2001) and to Helen at She Reads Novels. Dorothy must have been someone close to genius. Helen is one of the most knowledgeable bloggers I know when it comes to historical fiction and she introduced me to Dorothy.