Scotland in the 16th century
I've read the Lymond Chronicles 3 times, and frankly, this first book only gets a little easier with repeated reads. Don't despair, though. There are blogs and forums and companion books to help with the classical references and the untranslated quotes. Seek them out. And bear in mind that the first 30% or so of the book is the hardest, and it's worth the effort. I hate plot spoilers, but it might help to know that in Lymond's world, there are no accidents. If you're accustomed to books where the good guys and the bad guys are clearly indicated from the beginning, well, it's a different game with Dunnett. Just as in chess, when seemingly random moves at the beginning don't make much sense until later in the game.
This also might help: Buccleuch is pronounced "Buckloo" and Culter is "Cool-ter" (according to a helpful page at dorothydunnett.co.uk)
This first novel in the Lymond Chronicles takes place in 1755 in the border region between Scotland and England and follows the exploits of Francis Crawford of Lymond as he and his Robin Hood-like band stir up trouble and evade capture by agents of both countries. He is a political agent himself, though Dunnett leaves you guessing for a while as to his loyalties. Flawlessly researched and compulsively readable for fans of European historical fiction, Lymond is a swashbuckling hero and Renaissance man. If the snatches of French and Latin verse are interesting to you, you can augment your Dunnett experience with the Dorothy Dunnett Companion (Sno-Isle has only Volume II) by Elspeth Morrison. The six part series continues as Lymond infiltrates the French court of Henry II in an attempt to find the would-be assassin of the child-queen, Mary Queen of Scots in Queen's Play.
Francis Crawford, Master of Lymond, had been banished from his native Scotland for murder and treason, spending 3 yrs as a galley slave. In 1547, Scotland's at risk of war with England. Lymond escapes, returns unseen to Edinburgh where friends await him. He has enemies too, including Mary de Guise, mother and governor to 4 yr old Mary Queen of Scots. His family's split—stodgy brother Richard, Lord Culter, newly wed to Irish Mariotta, has always been jealous of Lymond, who can do everything. Their mother, Sybilla loves Lymond best. Lymond creates a band of no-goods to raise an army for Scotland, who doesn't have one, and steals to support the Kingdom because he knows England's going to attack. He has a magnetic personality, which he uses for good and ill. When he thinks the group is ready to work together, he disbands them, after saving the young queen's life and showing the Queen Dowager what he's capable of. Difficult, dense reading, partly to demonstrate Lymond's brilliance. A page turner.
Those who enjoy a challenging read and an appreciation for language should sit up and take notice of this book. This is historical adventure that centres around the character of Crawford of Lymond who has been charged with treason and becomes an outlaw. The challenge of reading this book comes with the writing style. The use of foreign phrases, Scottish dialect, archaic vocabulary and unique sentence structure makes this book a bit difficult to get into, however you will be rewarded for your perseverance by discovering an intelligent author, some memorable characters and a great story with a subtle undercurrent of humour. The reading becomes easier as you get used to it and the story picks up steadily as it goes along. The vocabulary is very rich although somewhat defunct, and gives a real feel of 16th century Scotland to the story. I found it very enjoyable.
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