I didn’t realize when I started reading the Lymond Chronicles (Book One is The Game of Kings) how much heartfelt self-denial and doomed romance I was getting in for, but it’s there. On some level, and almost from the very start, these books are bodice-rippers, complete with harem girls, separated lovers, conflicted oaths, and duels to the death over ladies’ favors.
But they’re fantastic bodice-rippers. The six books are set in sixteenth century Scotland, England, Russia, France, and the Levant, and follow the career of a scarred, ill-fated, self-loathing, and astonishingly talented Scottish nobleman, Francis Crawford of Lymond (and eventually, Sevigny). Dunnett’s verbal wit alone is impressive; coupled with her language skills and the mass of historical detail, it makes for a series of books that should intimidate other writers. And the books have more than just romance: rooftop chases, knightly orders, menageries, trials, seances, prophecy, political intrigue, shipwrecks, murder, forced marches, chess matches to the death, religious struggle, international commerce, military discipline, siege warfare, and espionage spring from the pages in abundance.
Put these on the shelf with Patrick O’Brian. I don’t think they unseat the Aubreyad, but boy, they give it a run for its money.