Dorothy Dunnett - The Game of Kings (1961)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
Dorothy Dunnett started writing books having complained to her husband that she had run out of things to read. Her debut, The Game of Kings, appeared at the end of 18 months fuelled by the extensive research that would characterise all of her historical novels. Set in Scotland at the height of the Renaissance - in the aftermath of the disastrous loss to the English at the Battle of Pinkie - the novel follows Francis Crawford, Master of Lymond, who has been judged a traitor and disowned by his family and friends. He sneaks back into Scotland to assume leadership of his notorious band of mercenaries and pursue his own agenda across the taut political chessboard of the Scottish Borders.
The adventures of this brilliant, elegant and deeply flawed hero make for compulsive reading, as he plays a devastating game within the complex, confusing, tense and corrupt world of 16th century Scotland. The society which Lymond scandalises is peopled with a broad diversity of completely real characters, each with their own agendas, prejudices and beliefs, and all fighting to hold onto what they love most dearly, be it home, wealth, power, nation or family.
It has been said, numerous times, that this book changed the course of historical fiction. Effortlessly accurate and real, anchored in actual events, Dunnett's work brings the time to life with a vivacity and wit unsurpassed in the genre. It challenges the reader to keep up; with the speed and complexity of the plot, with the brilliance of language and the wordplay, with the richness of the setting and the riotousness of its characters. But most of all The Game of Kings makes 16th century Scotland and its people real, tangible and thoroughly absorbing.
View the complete list of the 100 Best Scottish Books.