The Disorderly Knights

by Dorothy Dunnett

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)

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Novels about the Great Siege of Malta
(14 years after the events in The Disorderly Knights):

Sword and Scimitar by Simon Scarrow (2012), about a disgraced knight sent to Malta to recover an important document in 1565 as the Ottoman Siege of Malta is about to begin. More info

The Great Siege by William Napier (2010), about a sixteen-year-old English boy who fights in the Siege of Malta in 1565; #1 in the Clash of Empires series. More info

Ironfire by David Ball (2003; titled The Sword and the Scimitar in the U.K.), about two children in sixteenth century Malta, a brother kidnapped by Muslim pirates and a sister who grows up on Malta, and the siege of Christian-ruled Malta by the Muslim Ottomans. More info

Nonfiction about Malta and the Knights of St. John:

Malta: The Order of St. John by Thomas Freller and Daniel Cilia (2010). More info

Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley (2008). More info

The Great Siege of Malta by Bruce Ware Allen (2015). More info


History of Malta under the Order of Saint John at Wikipedia

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