The Ringed Castle

by Dorothy Dunnett

Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson

The Ringed Castle, fifth in the Lymond Chronicles series, takes Francis Crawford of Lymond to Russia, where he gains command over the army of Tsar Ivan, who would be known to history as Ivan the Terrible. Merchant-adventurer Richard Chancellor's expedition to Russia offers an interesting slice of real history alongside Lymond's fictional adventures. Meanwhile, Philippa Somerville is back in the north of England helping care for a two-year-old boy of uncertain parentage. Not until more than halfway through the novel will Philippa and Lymond come together again. The bulk of the story is his, as he copes with the tsar's capricious brutality and the jealousy of the Russian boyars, whose military incompetence is surpassed only by their sense of entitlement.

Throughout the first four novels, Lymond has often had to make difficult decisions in circumstances in which the long-term well-being of people for whom he is responsible conflicts with their short-term well-being. He has frequently made decisions that appear harsh or even cruel, because the alternatives would be far more damaging. This dynamic is at its strongest in The Ringed Castle as Lymond attempts to protect from a vindictive, emotionally unstable ruler both his loyal followers - drawn to Russia not only by their allegiance to Lymond but by the prospect of extraordinary wealth - and the country he now serves. The strength of his desire to put his Scottish past behind him is vividly displayed toward the end of the novel when he is forced to leave Russia and struggles, against every effort of his companions, to return to what would appear to be almost certain death.

As with the other Lymond novels, The Ringed Castle has a satisfying ending which nevertheless propels readers into the next and final novel in the series. Previously hidden questions about Lymond's past come into play that are new and astonishing; the unraveling of these mysteries in the final novel will make compelling reading. (1971, 521 pages)

More about The Ringed Castle at Powell's Books or

Other historical novels set in Russia and/or relating to Ivan the Terrible:

The Last Crusaders: Ivan the Terrible by William Napier (2014), about an Englishmen sent on a diplomatic mission to Constantinople and then Russia after the czar proposes marriage to Queen Elizabeth; #3 in the Clash of Empires series. More info

Murder in the Queen's Wardrobe by Kathy Lynn Emerson (2015), about a woman with a knowledge of ciphers and codes who is recruited by Queen Elizabeth's spymaster to serve as lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth's cousin, who is being courted by Ivan the Terrible of Russia. More info

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak (2012), about a woman who serves as a spy in the Russian court during the years before the future Catherine the Great rose to power. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Nonfiction about Ivan the Terrible and Richard Chancellor:

Ivan the Terrible: First Tsar of Russia by Isabel de Madariaga (2005). More info

Ivan the Terrible by Robert Payne and Nikita Romanoff (1975). More info

England and Russia: Comprising the Voyages of John Tradescant the Elder, Sir Hugh Willoughby, Richard Chancellor and Others to the White Sea, etc. by Joseph Hamel (1854). More info


Richard Chancellor, a Wikipedia article about Richard Chancellor and his sixteenth-century expeditions to Russia

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