1. For discussion of Queens’ Play
In some respects Queens’ Play is a sixteenth-century spy story, its hero a Scottish "mole" at the French court. How comfortable is Lymond as a state "operative"? Why is the state uncomfortable with him? Does he safely complete his mission, to save a child from an assassin? How does the tragic failure of his relationship with Robin Stewart qualify this?
2. Though Queens’ Play does not travel to Ireland, the politics and plight of that small, proud, conflicted nation are crucial to the novel. Why does Dorothy Dunnett choose to tell the story of Ireland largely through the figure of the emphatically anti-political Phelim O’Liam Roe? What qualities of ancient Ireland, sixteenth-century Ireland, perhaps even contemporary Ireland, does O’Liam Roe display?
3. In an important scene toward the end of the novel, Lymond attempts to "show the French court to itself in a new light: not as his companions, his victims, in some deliberate essay in decadence, but as ministers to his art." Is this a ruse or is it true to some extent? Is Lymond just "using" his art or is he a true artist?
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?