Warning: this post contains spoilers for Dorothy Dunnett’s The Ringed Castle, as well as previous books in The Lymond Chronicles
Honestly, I’m not even quite sure where to begin reviewing this book (it probably doesn’t help that I started reading this series years ago, long before I started consistently reviewing books on this website). I will do a full series review after reviewing Checkmate, but let’s focus for now on The Ringed Castle. To put it in as few of words as possible, I loved everything about this book, and not just because my fiancee bought the series for me. It’s sort of like what would happen if you took a highly educated Jack Sparrow, and plopped him into the middle of Lord of the Rings level writing, and set the entire thing to the beat of 16th century Russia, but that doesn’t even begin to do it justice.
If I could write books with prose half as beautiful as Dorothy Dunnett, I would be beyond thrilled. And if I could speak half as eloquently as her main character, Sir Francis Crawford Comte de Lymond and Seveigny, I would probably annoy a lot of people, because I would be quoting poetry in three or four languages, and would talk all the time, just for the joy of being able to string sentences together the way he does. Of course, Crawford is not simply a fantastic master of oratory. He’s a fascinating, compelling character with a troubled background and an equally troubled present, who has throughout the series managed to make himself successful through shear, raw capability and unmatched endurance.
Sighting an opportunity, in this book Crawford heads for Russia, which has only recently been unified under a Tsar, and by demonstrating his competency, arranges to be voeveda of all Russia, overseeing the Tsar’s military development and operations. His goal is nothing less than creating a Russian powerhouse, and being the one to guide its path through history. Although he did not really exist, the events that he encounters did happen, and The Ringed Castle provides a fascinating look into a period and place in history that receives very little attention. While the nations of western Europe were working through the Age of Exploration, Russia was trying to drag itself into the modern day and a state where it could compete with the others.
I love the concept of a person making themselves outstandingly successful through their capability and tenacity, which is exactly what Crawford does. He establishes basically a cult of personality about himself, with people who follow him almost fanatically because of what he can offer that no one else can. He can be cold and calculating, doing what needs to be done, and still maintaining the loyalty of his followers.
I could go on and on about this book, and everything that made it so fantastic, but I think I will save some of that for the series review. Suffice to say, I highly recommend that you not only read this book, but go back and find the first one, and read all the way through.