Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson
In The Disorderly Knights, third in the Lymond Chronicles series, Francis Crawford of Lymond goes to Malta in 1551 to help the Knights of St. John defend the island from a Turkish attack. Behind his mission lies a complicated political situation. Scotland's ally France is at war with Spain, the country which allows the knightly religious order to use the island, provided they defend it from the Turks, with whom the French are allied against Spain. French knights must parse their loyalties carefully. Arriving in Malta, Lymond discovers other conflicts, too, seething within the Order. The knights are unhappy with their Grand Master, who seems insanely determined to avoid taking sensible defensive measures, including protecting the poorly armed native population. It seems as though the charismatic Scottish knight Graham Reid Malett might easily unseat the Grand Master, but he refuses, saying it would violate his vows of obedience.
After an inevitable disaster strikes, Lymond returns to Scotland with some of the knights, including Malett, to form a mercenary force. But dissension and looming disaster follow them home. If the novel focuses intensely on issues of politics and warfare in an age when these were largely controlled by men, a diverse host of women are instrumental in moving the plot forward or in twisting it surprisingly sideways. Young Philippa Somerville (whom readers of The Game of Kings will recall vividly) is one; Malett's uncannily beautiful sister is another.
Readers may not follow every detail of the complex plot, but the urgency of the action makes The Disorderly Knights a page-turner regardless. As in the first two novels, Lymond is beset with wrenching moral choices and does not take the easy, most socially graceful route to resolving them. It makes him a fascinating hero. (1966, 503 pages)More about The Disorderly Knights at Powell's Books or Amazon.com