Book Favorites: The Lymond Chronicles

-John Hugh

One of my passions outside of faith and family are books – the others being baseball & bucks, which for those who don’t know means deer hunting & watching.  I love to read.  I have favorite authors who have shaped me – Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway.  Yet, and not just saying this, the greatest reading experience I’ve had in my life has been this – The Lymond Chronicles.  They may be the greatest book series that you have never heard of.  But this series has inspired many others since, notably Game of Thrones and Outlander, and there’s been talk of making them into a TV mini-series.  The mini-series hasn’t been produced yet, and most likely for good reason.   It may simply be impossible to put a story of this canvas and magnitude onto the screen.

Enough platitudes.  What are Lymond Chronicles?   Why are they loved by me and many, many others?   They are a 6-book series revolving around one individual, the hero of the story – Francis Crawford of Lymond and his family.  The stories are set in the 1500s as historical fiction, meaning the primary characters are fictitious.  The secondary characters and events that transpire and shape the narrative, however,  really occurred.

Each book has a different setting, in this order:  Scotland, France, Malta, Constantinople (Istanbul), Russia, and back to France and Scotland.  The author is Dorothy Dunnett, and she wrote this about her great work:  

“I wished to explore, within several books, the nature and experience of a classical hero – a gifted leader whose star-crossed career, disturbing, hilarious, dangerous, I could follow in detail for ten years.  And I wished to set him in the age of the Renaissance….In pursuit of a personal quest, he finds his way – or is driven – across the known world, from the palaces of the Tudor kings and queens of England to the brilliant court of Henry II and Catherine de Medicis in France…It becomes apparent in the course of the story that Lymond, the most articulate and charismatic of men, is vulnerable too, not least because of his feeling for Scotland, and for his estranged family.”

Chess is a grand theme tying together each sequel in this series.  Each title is tied to it:  Game of Kings, Queen’s Play, Disorderly Knights, Pawn in Frankincense, Ringed Castle, and Checkmate.

Like many, I have come to love the characters within these books very much.  Some of them die early after you’ve fallen in love with them.  One of these books has the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve ever read in literature. You will know it when you read it.  Also the series contains the darkest villain I’ve encountered in reading.  Most of all, we see our hero Lymond, as his creator wrote, “the most articulate and charismatic of men”, as extremely vulnerable and extremely flawed as well.  As the 2nd best character in the series states of Lymond late into the series:  “He is not a machine.”  No, he is human.

Please note the books do start slowly.  There is an arc to them.  The first book is really the first chapter.  I had to push through initially.  The pay offs though, in book 3, especially in book 4, and then in book 5, are immense.  Then there is the finale which is an impressive checkmate.

This series has attracted and appealed to many over the years and I promote it everywhere I go.  Why do I love them?  Heroes, adventure, travel, history, love, loss, home, family, mystery, good, evil, sacrifice, seafaring – they have it all.  And if you don’t take my word for it, know I discovered them through Kathy Keller’s, the wife of Tim Keller, list of favorite books.

Now that we are living in France, scenes from these books seem closer to reality and the history within them even closer too.  I plan to re-read the entire series while living here.  Yet wherever your spot is, reading is still the ultimate passport.  

We can go there.  I’m grateful for the gifted authors such as Dorothy Dunnett who take a blank canvas and ultimately take you on a greater voyage.  They create a picture, and then a story, of worlds gone before, yet that can remain remarkably present if you are willing to see them. I hope you grab a copy today.

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  1. I enjoyed your blog about the Lymond Chronicles. They are my all time favorite set of books to read and reread. They inspire me to learn more about history, geography, classical literature and the french language.

    Dorothy Dunnett was truly an amazing author.

    Many blessings in your reading and ministry.

    • Hi Trish,
      Thank you for commenting. Yes she was. Love her. May read the Niccolo series too. Thank you for your well wishes and best to you.
      John Hugh

  2. Dunnett also wrote an 8 book series about an ancestor of Frances Lymond.
    Niccolo Rising. Also worth the reading experience

    • Hi Sandra,
      Yes I know! I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. I would love to do so. I think I’m going to re-read Lymond first. Love it so. Best and blessings to you. John Hugh

  3. I started reading The Lynond Chronicles when I was 18 and 50 years later, they are still my favorite books! My husband and I are going on a vacation that includes a tour of Istanbul and I can hardly wait to see some of the sites from Pawn in Frankincense!