Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson
The Game of Kings, set in Scotland during the reigns of two child-monarchs, Mary Queen of Scots and Edward VI of England, takes place within a tapestry of warfare and political maneuvering among English and Scottish nobility for the control of Scotland. Henry VIII had wanted his son Edward to marry Mary and bring Scotland under English control. When the Scots resisted, he waged war on them to force the marriage; after his death, the war - known as the "Rough Wooing" - continued.
On this background, the devilishly complex tale of the fictional Scottish aristocrat Francis Crawford of Lymond plays out. The novel begins with rumors of his return to Scotland after living abroad to avoid a charge of treason. Young Will Scott, entranced by Lymond's charm, brilliance and daring, defies his father to joins Lymond's band of outlaws, and becomes increasingly disturbed by Lymond's ruthlessness in pursuing his goals. And what are those goals? Is Lymond indeed a traitor, or the most patriotic of Scots? Readers will find themselves in Will Scott's quandary, admiring Lymond, rooting for him to survive a series of reckless adventures in which his motives and ends are often unclear, and hoping that in the end, their admiration can be justified - or at least excused.
The Game of Kings is filled with brilliantly drawn, memorable characters, including some exceptional women, among them Lymond's resourceful mother and the gentle, keenly intelligent blind girl Christian Stewart. These and other characters are rich enough to carry the novel on their own if readers get lost in the complex interweaving of plot threads. Some readers will relish the challenge of following those threads, the pattern of which becomes clearer as the novel progresses and readers come to know the characters more intimately. Readers who become passionate Dunnett fans after reading this novel will be happy to know there are five more in the Lymond series. (1961; 543 pages)More about The Game of Kings at Powell's Books or Amazon.com