My impression and lessons learned from The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel #mustread #review

I finished reading Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings which turned out to live up to expectations of being a great story. I shared last time a few stumbling blocks I encountered, but eventually overcame them. In order for me to enjoy the story, I had to make a few adjustments to my approach. I also got a little help from some new Twitter “friends” after my last post.

First, let me mention that the tweet sharing the last week’s blog topic was retweeted by the Dorothy Dunnett Society, which I was unaware even existed. How fabulous to think of the impact one author has had on so many readers! In fact, according to their site, their mission includes to “advance the education of the public concerning the history, politics, culture and religion of the 11th, 15th and 16th centuries by promoting the study of and research into such subjects generally and into such subjects particularly as they related to the works of Dorothy Dunnett.” I must thank the Society for retweeting my tweet so that other fans could share their experience and appreciation for The Game of Kings with me.

In my last post, I mentioned that the story is set in Scotland in 1546, when Mary Queen of Scots was 4 years old. And that I inferred that fact from knowing Mary is 4 years old in the story. I looked up when she was born but couldn’t pinpoint the time period more closely. Thanks to Max A. Ess, I now know:

Max.A.Ess @Nigel333

Replying to @BettyBolte @DunnettCentral

1/ The book is set from 1547-48 not 1546. The battle of Pinkie occurs close to the beginning of the book. It was on September 10th 1547. Mary was born in December so she was still four years old then. The capture of Sir Thomas Palmer near Haddington was in Summer 1548.

I really appreciate Mr. Ess weighing in on the exact time frame of the story. It may seem a trifling thing, but I do try to keep historic events in context as much as I can. Granted, I’m still learning about 16th century history and have a very long way to go. One of the reasons I’m broadening my historical fiction reading is to also broaden my knowledge of history.

Several other Dunnett fans told me about how much her stories meant to them, how they learned to skim the unfamiliar terms and perhaps take time to look them up later. But basically what I gleaned from their comments is to read first, analyze second. So I had to take off my editor and author hats and put on my reader hat. Step away from reading critically in order to read for pleasure. Only then was I able to truly enjoy the story, the storytelling, and absorb the history. This is a technique I used while working on my BA and MA in English when reading the classics. I often had to just try to read it for the story and not critically, at least the first time before I reread for critical analysis. So thanks to the folks who reminded me to read first!

Going back to the slew of foreign terms and quotations peppered throughout the story. The main culprit, if you will, of using most of them is Lymond, but others also do. I had to wonder about why they were included. Ms. Dunnett must have had a reason for going through the seemingly immense effort to locate appropriate quotes from all of the various languages. What purpose did they serve? I sincerely doubt that she was “showing off” her own intellect or accomplishments by including them. As I read, I kept wondering and pondering until I reached a place in the text where I think she revealed the true reason. The main character, Lymond, is having a conversation with Gideon (on page 340 in my copy of the book) who in exasperation exclaims, “I wish to God…that you’d talk—just once—in prose like other people.” In Lymond’s reply he says, “I echo like a mynah” bird, pulling all of these quotations from books he’s read. He’s a very well read man, that’s certain, and I think he uses language as a weapon or a tool to deflect and confuse or to create a delay while he thinks through the situation at hand. I think when Lymond says he’ll talk in prose like others, it’s a turning point in his growth arc. I won’t elaborate because I don’t want to ruin another’s enjoyment of the story.

My main takeaways from reading this book are varied. Keep an open mind about the writing style. Immerse myself in the story first. Absorb the history as well as the story by putting my inner critic in the back seat while reading. Perhaps jot down or highlight the unfamiliar terms to explore later, but even that I think would pull me from the story itself and detract from enjoying the read.

Are you reading along? What did you think of The Game of Kings, if so? I’m open to having a discussion about what you think of each of these stories, too!

Up next for me is another book off my personal bookshelf: A Place Called Armageddon: Constantinople 1453 by C.C. Humphreys. Humphreys was born in Canada and has lived in the USA and the UK. Again, I know very little about 15th century history and Constantinople. We’ll see what I learn from reading this one…

Happy reading and happy holidays to all!


P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

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Martha “Patsy” Custis manages an immense eighteenth-century plantation in the Virginia colony. But as a young widow she must balance her business with caring for her two young children. Her experience and education have sustained her thus far but when her life veers in an unexpected direction, she realizes she has much more to learn. When Colonel George Washington takes an interest in her, she’s convinced he’ll be a loving husband and father for her children.

But when trouble in the form of British oppression, taxes, and royal arrogance leads to revolt and revolution, George must choose between duty to country and Martha. Compelled to take matters into her own hands, Martha must decide whether to remain where she belongs or go with her husband… no matter what the dangerous future may hold.

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