Checkmate: Conclusion of the Lymond Saga


Checkmate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I may risk ostracism from true Lymond fans for this kind of heresy, but it took me a while to get into Checkmate, the final installment in the series. This was at least partly because I kept getting distracted by other things – like the need to work – and thus forgetting where I’d got to. Last weekend, though, for long and complicated reasons, I needed a book that would last me through a day’s solid train travel and there was only one candidate on the list. Finally, I’d have the time to devote to reacquainting myself with the characters and plot.

And what a plot! Phillipa’s tenacious pursuit of the truth about the Crawford family reaches a climax that is all the more shocking for going unnamed for so long. The whole book is positively dripping with subtext with so much left to the reader’s imagination that I was quite relieved to find everything was spelled out in the end – I always fear that I’ve missed something of blinding obviousness or extreme importance, or both. I’ll do my best to write about it without spoilers, but really, if you think there’s any likelihood at all of you reading these books, and you haven’t done so already,  stop here now and go and track down The Game of Kings instead.

Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett

Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett

Reading nearly 40 years on from its first publication, never mind the hundreds of years since its Tudor setting, it can be hard to feel the urgency of “the taint of bastardy” that haunts Lymond and his family through this book. Yet it’s clear that there is a real need on Philippa’s part to see if anything can restore his relationship with his mother. After all, Sybilla has been the grounding constant, the person who has always kept faith with Lymond no matter what, and thus it’s desperately sad to see him cut himself off from her.

It is also fascinating to finally see the man emerging from behind the carefully constructed barriers he puts up to the people around him – and telling to note the frequency with which the name “Francis” starts to predominate over the more impersonal “Lymond”.  His relationship with Philippa also reminded me strongly of the meeting of minds between Harriet and Lord Peter Wimsey, Harriet having said in Gaudy Night (I think) something to the effect that if she once gave way to Peter she would go up like straw.

(Come to think of it, there are quite a lot of similarities between Francis Crawford of Lymond and Lord Peter Wimsey, if you substitute the cricket ground for the battlefield. Maybe there’s a thesis, or at least a blog post, in there somewhere. Unless somebody else has got there first.)

fait accompli!

Fait accompli! (Photo credit: Indiewench)

I ended this series with a feeling of satisfaction and, to an extent, relief at the way all the threads came together. I was starting to get quite irritated by all the mystical stuff around the Dame de Doutance and her prophecies, so was glad to see them shaken off at the end. It’s been a glorious rollercoaster ride across six books and over a year since I first posted about them but I’m thrilled to have made it, and to have discovered such a compelling voice and series of characters. I’m sure, as so many people have said, that I will be coming back to these books again and again, despite the weight of new reading all around me. Next time round, I’ll be less desperate to know what happens and hopefully able to properly appreciate the details of history, description and literary allusion. I may still skip the battle scenes though.

Now, can anybody recommend me a good general history of Mary, Queen of Scots?

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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2 Responses to Checkmate: Conclusion of the Lymond Saga

  1. caroline mcilwaine says:

    So glad that you followed the journey through to its end! I love Checkmate but I often see people’s comments about it not being their favourite, and some echo your view about the mysticism and prophecies getting in the way of free agency but I love the high drama and felt, bone-deep, almost every sacrifice each character made – and really it was not the Dame who overrode Francis’ and P’s free will and choices, they did that themselves for reasons almost understandable but so agonisingly frustrating for the reader. And we just didn’t know until the end that the resolution we were pursuing would happen at all – and how many of us were prepared for what was revealed? I adore DD and forgave her ruthlessness with our feelings many times because what she crafted is an epic that I never tire of reading and characters that feel almost like family. I must join a discussion group ….

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