1. For discussion of The Game of Kings
The Game of Kings is the first of six books in the Lymond series based on the imagery of chess. Who would you say are the gamesters in this novel? Do the kings "play" the game or are they pieces in the game? Given the way suspense is created and information hidden, how is the novelist at some level engaged in a chess game with the reader?
2. The brothers Francis Crawford of Lymond and Richard Crawford of Culter appear to be rivals in every field: love, war, politics, family. Which scenes make you feel you’ve seen the heart of this relationship? Has Dorothy Dunnett managed to create in Richard a character with a fullness of his own, aside from his function as "foil" to Lymond? Is Richard as "romantic" a character as his brother? More romantic?
3. Lymond’s Spanish disguise at Hume Castle is only the most theatrical and public of the flamboyant hero’s many masquerades; what are some of the others? Besides the multiple political or military purposes, what do you think are some of the deeper psychological reasons for Lymond’s brilliance at, or even addiction to, "acting"?
4. Lymond likens sixteenth-century Scotland to a wren caught between crocodiles. How do the character and choices of Wat Scott of Buccleuch mirror, and affect, what’s happening in Scotland? What about Andrew Hunter of Ballaggan? Would you call Agnes Herries, later Maxwell, such a "wren"?
5. Perhaps the most poignant relationship in the novel is that between the protagonist, Lymond, and young Will Scott, the heir to the lordship of Buccleuch. What are some of the lessons Will must learn during his "apprenticeship" with Lymond?
6. Startlingly enough, in the course of this novel the glamorous and dangerous protagonist has no lovers and no sex, delivers only one kiss, and ends up in the embrace of his mother. What are some of the ironies here? What does the romantic triangle created between Richard Crawford, his wife Mariotta, and Francis Crawford seem to be saying about "romance"? About love?
7. Why does Lymond put himself in the hands of his enemies to redeem Christian Stewart, held hostage in England? How is this relationship, as Lymond says, "made possible" by her blindness? How does the blind girl help the reader more truly "see" Lymond?
8. The scene at the climax of the novel cuts back and forth between a legal hearing and a game of tarot cards–a game associated with the mystic, occult, and fateful. How do the contesting parties in the legal game and in the card game mirror one another? What might Dorothy Dunnett be suggesting by this pairing of the legal and the occult worlds?
9. A good popular novel should, arguably, have some strong villains: Who qualifies for this role in The Game of Kings? Is it easy to distinguish treason from patriotism–or patriotism from egoism–in the world of the novel?
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?