Pawn in Frankincense (Lymond, Book 4)

Chess pawn 0968
When I finished reading The Disorderly Knights, I mentioned that I was strangely reluctant to get reading Pawn in Frankincense (Dorothy Dunnett, 1969), despite having it lined up ready. This was because I had heard that it was heart-breaking – and also because I have quite a lot of work on and other reading matter piling up!

Anyway, work or no work, I did read it. Despite the aforementioned sadness, I found it much more gripping than the previous book. Lymond and his oddly assorted entourage are racketing around the Mediterranean in pursuit of his archenemy, a small child and a personal vendetta that has swept up so many other lives in its wake. Again, there were a few moments that sat uneasily with modern sensibilities, but this time I found the plot stronger and more engaging. I read a vast chunk of it over one evening, skipping pages of detailed and no doubt beautiful description to get on with the story –  I’m sure I’ll come back to those with greater appreciation some other time.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot because if these posts inspire anyone to read the series, I don’t want to spoil things for them. I thoroughly annoyed myself by reading down to the comments on another blog review of DK only to find a commenter listing characters who die in later installments (I’d only wanted to complement the author on her write-up) and I don’t want to do that to anyone else – if you’re going to comment on this post on any others of mine, please keep them spoiler-free!

Pawn in Frankincense, by Dorothy Dunnett

Pawn in Frankincense, by Dorothy Dunnett

I did, however, particularly enjoy the development of Phillipa as a character – her dose of refreshing common sense in such a dramatic situation is more than welcome – and I’ll be intrigued to see how things pan out in the last two books. It was also interesting to read about the history of two places I’ve visited myself – Volos and Zakynthos – something that always appeals to me. There are some terrible choices facing the characters in this book and the final set piece – a game of live chess – is particularly haunting. It is also devastating to see the way one person’s decisions can fan out to affect a whole range of varyingly innocent bystanders.

Once again, Dunnett’s writing is quite literally breathtaking – on occasion I found myself gasping with tension – and she paints an impressive picture of an age, a landscape and her characters, even the minor ones. This time I’m much more desperate to know what happens next and don’t have the books to hand. Still, it will do me no harm to wait a few weeks.

Pawns and Rook

Pawns and Rook by @bastique on flickr

Photo credit: Chess Pawn 0968 By che (production: Nolanus, lighting assistance: Danny B.) (che) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Pawns and Rook by @bastique on flickr

About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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5 Responses to Pawn in Frankincense (Lymond, Book 4)

  1. Pingback: An Epic Undertaking – the Lymond Saga by Dorothy Dunnett | a discount ticket to everywhere

  2. Pingback: The Disorderly Knights – Lymond, Part Three | a discount ticket to everywhere

  3. Pingback: The Ringed Castle, Lymond Book 5 | a discount ticket to everywhere

  4. Marydot Pinto says:

    The six books which make the Lymond Chronicles have been my all-time favorites for over 40 years. I have never been able to decide which one of the six is my favorite. There is not another author, living or dead, who has given me as much reading please as Dorothy Dunnett. She is the only author I will ever need.

  5. Pingback: Checkmate: Conclusion of the Lymond Saga | a discount ticket to everywhere

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