1. Checkmate opens with a cockfight that has a decidedly symbolic feel to it. What are some of the symbolic possibilities in the conflict between the red and the gold birds? Does it in some respects mirror the developing antagonism between Francis Crawford and Austin Gray and the climax of that antagonism?
2. Marthe explains to Sybilla Crawford that the reason her marriage to Jerott Blyth has failed is that each partner "has married the other as a substitute for somebody else." What does she mean? What does Marthe want from Sybilla Crawford? What does she want from Francis Crawford?
3. First seen as a shouting five-year-old in The Game of Kings and then as a defiant and imperilled seven-year-old in Queen’s Play, Mary Queen of Scots is a complex teenager in Checkmate. How does the novel assess her character? What does her character portend for the future of Scotland?
4. After a long and difficult romance the hero and heroine of the Lymond Chronicles finally return to one another and to Scotland at the end of this novel. What has been blocking these returns, and what unblocks them? What losses balance this gain?
For discussion of the Lymond Chronicles
1. The hero of a long series of historical novels, like the hero of a crime or detective series, lives properly in a milieu of struggle and physical violence and is likely to be the object of this violence over and over. Yet, of course, he must survive it if the series is to continue: "Popular resurrections are a tedious pastime of Francis’," says Lady Lennox in Queens’ Play, trying to recover from yet another reappearance by the handsome nemesis she had thought was dead. What are the most interesting or important examples of the deaths and resurrections of Francis Crawford in the series? How and for what purpose do such scenes play with the feelings of the reader?
2. In its various travels and stories, the Lymond Chronicles encompass several religious systems–Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Russian Orthodox Christianity, as well as several forms of the Islamism of the Ottoman Empire. What is the series’ attitude toward religion, religious institutions, and authentic spirituality? What do figures like the Dame de Doubtance, John Dee, and Michel de Nostradamus–astrologers and scientists, mystics and psychologists–represent in this respect?
3. Over the length of the Lymond Chronicles the protagonist must withstand the attacks of three powerful antagonists–Margaret Lennox, Graham Malett, and Leonard Bailey. How do these figures of evil differ in their reasons for wanting to possess or destroy Francis Crawford? Does the manner of their deaths or downfalls seem particularly appropriate to their characters?
4. As the secrets of the Crawford family structure surface one by one, through the very last few pages of the last novel, the questions raised in the first novel about Francis Crawford’s relationship with his father, his brother, and his sister acquire disconcerting new dimensions. What new father, brother, sister does he need to integrate into his understanding of his family? One thing never changes, however–the centrality of his relationship to his mother for his psyche, his sexuality, even his politics. What by the end do we think of Sybilla Semple Crawford?
5. The essence of a good historical novel is its capacity to create colorful scenes for pure entertainment value, while also offering shrewd characterization, complex plot evolution, and acute political and social insight. Is the comedy of a scene like the feast and fight at the Ostrich Inn in Part II of The Game of Kings, for instance, a good balance for the pure thrill of the swordfight and chase into Hexham in Part IV? How do these scenes illuminate character, plot, and relationships?