Queens’ Play (The Lymond Chronicles #2) by Dorothy Dunnett

‘She wanted Crawford of Lymond.’

It is 1548 and the five-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, betrothed to her cousin the Dauphin, has been sent to France.  Her mother, Mary of Guise, Queen Mother of Scotland, and widow of James V wants Francis Crawford of Lymond to protect her.  She is worried about Mary’s safety: an infant ruler is never secure.  An assassination would serve the ambitions of some, while others would like to see Mary married to Edward VI of England.

Crawford of Lymond, for his own reasons, does not want a direct contract.  Instead, in disguise as a member of an Irish group, he will be at the French court of Henri II. It becomes obvious that the little Queen is in danger as a series of accidents befall her.  But others, including the disguised Lymond, are also in danger.  Who is trying to kill Mary, Queen of Scots? 

In typical Dunnett fashion, there are many twists in this fast-paced novel.  Lymond’s disguise (not always convincing, but frequently amusing) leads him into some interesting encounters and heroic endeavours.  The reader is usually at least one step behind Lymond, which makes for frantic page-turning reading while trying to find out what is happening (and why).

When I first read this series, during the 1980s, ‘Queens’ Play’ was my least favourite Lymond novel.  I’ve reread the novel at least twice since then and have come to better appreciate the action and the cleverness of the story.  Francis Crawford is a fascinating hero: athletic, erudite and patriotic.  But he has his demons as well.

This is the second in Dorothy Dunnett’s six volume series ‘The Lymond Chronicles’. Recommended, if you enjoy complex, well-written historical fiction. But be warned: reading Dunnett can be addictive.

The six novels are:

The Game of Kings

Queens’ Play

The Disorderly Knights

Pawn in Frankincense

The Ringed Castle

Checkmate

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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