“I despised men who accepted their fate. I shaped mine twenty times and had it broken twenty times in my hands.”
Bold words from a bold man.
Francis Crawford of Lymond has been accused of the most nefarious things: deceit, treachery, rape, drunkenness, murder,and just so he will for sure hang...treason. He has the same problem as Prince Harry of Wales does today. He is the spare son, the second son. The one that will have to make his own way while the grand Crawford estate goes to his older brother Richard. Dumbarton Castle, Scotland
Women are swept up under the sway of his seductive powers. Men want to be him or kill him. He makes it impossible for anyone to remain neutral in their regard for him. His tongue is as sharp as a rapier and his reticence about not sharing plans has even his most stout allies tearing their hair out in frustration. He is an accomplished polyglot and a master of disguise. He is a force of nature creating havoc for the ever shifting alliances between the Scots and the English. He does not join a side, does not trust any organization enough to actually call himself a member (nice to know I’m not the only one with this affliction). In 1547 Scotland he is a Renaissance Man and that does create it’s own problems. ”Versatility is one of the few human traits which are universally intolerable. You may be good at Greek and good at painting and be popular. You may be good at Greek and good at sport, and be wildly popular. But try all three and you’re a mountebank, Nothing arouses suspicion quicker than genuine, all-round proficiency.”
When his sister-in-law first meets Lymond, under rather awkward circumstances. He was looting her house of silver at the time. She can tell this brother has different stripes than her husband. So this was Richard’s brother. Every line of him spoke, palimpsestwise, with two voices. The clothes, black and rich, were vaguely slovenly; the skin sun-glazed and cracked; the fine eyes slackly lidded; the mouth insolent and self-indulgent. He returned the scrutiny without rancour.
“What had you expected? A viper, or a devil, or a ravening idiot; Milo with the ox on his shoulders, Angra-Mainyo prepared to do battle with Zoroaster, or the Golden Ass? OR didn’t you know the family colouring? Richard hasn’t got it. Poor Richard is merely Brown and fit to break bread with....”Milo with his Ox
Now you may have noted several classical references in that bit of repartee. Throughout the book Dunnett shows her range of reading and her understanding of classical literature. ”Look what we’ve got! Orpheus wriggling rump first out of Hades with his chivalry ashine like a ten-thread twill.”
It could make a reader (ME!!!) feel self-conscious about my own inadequate reading resume.
One of my favorite characters was a blind woman named Lady Christian Stewart who despite her affliction is brave and brilliant proving more than a match for Lymond in a battle of wits. ”To be sure,” said Christian serenely. “And painting with breath is my stock-in-trade--you’d forgotten that, hadn’t you? I’m an architect in lexicography; I can build you a palace of adverbs and a hermitage of personal pronouns...”
As the plot slithers around and the mystery surrounding Lymond’s innocence or guilt becomes more convoluted, key characters die at untimely moments, and shifting alliance change people’s perspective of events. The tension mounts as we are driven towards a final showdown between brothers, and a game of cards determines whether Lymond will swing or be welcomed back into the arms of his family.
The book is set against the backdrop of an English invasion of Scotland with Mary Queen of Scots a mere tot and incapable of providing commanding leadership. Men like Lymond have to stand up and do more than their share to insure that there remains a kingdom to be commanded. Dunnett deftly weaves fictional characters in with real life personages giving us an authentic feel for this turbulent time in Scottish History. In the next book in the series Lymond follows Mary Queen of Scots to France to insure her safety. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.