A couple of months back, I had this strange urge to read historical fiction. So began my search for a good historical fiction series. Through googling and scouring goodreads/reddit, I found that the most popular books were ones by Umberto Eco (of The Name of the Rose fame) and Ken Follett (Pillars of the Earth series). However reading the first few pages of the books couldn’t reel me in so they’re still stuck in my (now obnoxiously large and forever growing TBR) so when I read the blurb for The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, I had a feeling that this was the one to get obsessed over. I’m not generally a series reader so I was both shocked and glad to finally find a series worth obsessing over, and obsessed I am.
My favorite quote from the book A Game of Kings and literally one of the saddest death scenes ever:
You’ll have to read the book to know which character said these beautiful words!
This book series is seriously so underrated! I can’t believe I only heard of it after some serious googling.. It definitely needs more love. In writing this post, my goal is to convince you to pick up at least the first book of The Lymond Chronicles (or The House of Niccolò, but we’ll get to that later).
So how many books are there in total and which should I read first?
There are two series, the original Lymond Chronicles and the prequel House of Niccolò. The former is set in the mid 1500s during the reign of the Tudors in England and Queen Mary in Scotland while the latter is set some hundred years earlier during the early renaissance (beginning around the time of the Wars of the Roses and the Medici’s domination of Europe). I would suggest starting with whichever time period interests you more because you’ll probably get hooked and want to read the entire series after finishing the first book.
Here are the list of books in the two interconnected series (there are 6 in the original Lymond Chronicles and 8 in the prequel House of Niccolò series) and each book is around 400-600 pages each. DO NOT. I repeat DO NOT google the blurb for these books, because they contain some light spoilers. You have been warned. I have also included examples of locations each book is set in to give you an idea of the series’s wide range of settings (Regrettably, I’ve googled blurbs and gotten spoilers this way..)
Lymond Chronicles. The main character is Francis Crawford of Lymond, Master of Culter who at the beginning of the series is an outlawed Scottish nobleman (the second son of the 2nd Baron Culter) who has just returned to Scotland amidst an increasingly worrying political situation between Scotland and England).
- The Game of Kings : Scotland
- The Queen’s Play: France
- The Disorderly Knights: Malta
- Pawn in Frankincense: Ottoman Empire
- The Ringed Castle: Russia
- Checkmate: France
House of Niccolò. The main character is Nicholas “Claes”, the bastard son of the deceased Sophie de Fleury who is a member of a prominent Genevan merchant family. At the beginning of the series, Nicholas is orphaned and staying with his late mother’s distant relatives (the Charettys) in Bruges in their dyeshop as an apprentice.
- Niccolò Rising: Bruges and Italy
- The Spring of the Ram: Trebizond (then part of the Byzantine empire)
- Race of Scorpions: Cyprus
- Scales of Gold: Africa and Portugal
- The Unicorn Hunt: Egypt
- To Lie with Lions: Iceland
- Caprice and Rondo: Poland
- Gemini: France and Scotland
The two series are quite similar, but not entirely so. They are similar in that both center on a prodigy-type character who navigate through turbulent political landscapes, often operating on a questionable moral compass. Both series have many, many plot twists and wonderful side characters. Also worth noting is that Dunnett is Scottish, and in both series the Kingdom of Scotland is a major character – though many of the books are set in different countries (this is especially true for the Niccolò series, which begins in Bruges, Flanders but you’ll have to read the series to understand what I mean). I’ve read the first two books from each series and my first impression was that Lymond focuses more on European politics and while Niccolò also focuses a lot on politics, it also focuses on the lives several merchants and workers. While the main characters in Lymond are mainly nobles and royalty, the central characters in Niccolò come from a much wider range of background (just in the first two books, we encounter the following main characters: workers, merchants, lawyers, doctors, nobles, royalty, priests and mercenaries). So far, I must say I am enjoying the Niccolò series quite a bit more but that’s probably because I’m only in book 2 of both series. I’ll have my final opinion once I’ve read all fourteen books at least once.
Oh, one more thing. The Lymond chronicles are difficult to read (this is coming from a pretty enthusiastic and voracious reader who read things like Catcher in the Rye and Jane Austen novels as a 13-year old in their spare time, not for school). Needless to say, I am not exactly what you would classify as a novice reader (yes, I too am laughing at my arrogance) and yet I was way in over my head especially with the first book A Game of Kings. Thankfully, I found this amazing blog to refer to: Now You Have Dunnett who does a chapter-by-chapter summary and discussion. I would finish a chapter (the chapters are pretty long in the first book) and immediately read the corresponding blog post to better understand what I just read.
Now You Have Dunnett, whoever you are, you’re amazing and thank you so much!
So in case you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend picking up the book series if you are searching for a new book series that isn’t fantasy or romance, and yet full of drama and plot twists. I also highly recommend it for the history buffs out there, especially those interested in European history or the history of commerce. The Lymond chronicles is especially great for those interested in English and Scottish history in particular (especially around the Tudor period) while the Niccolò series is great for those interested in the early renaissance and mercantile empires. I think Niccolò is especially interesting to me because I have not come across many works of fiction regarding the specific setting and time period (I mean, just how many tv shows on netflix are set in 15th century Flanders with cloth merchants as main characters? Exactly). Plus, whenever I google the characters from any one of the books, chances are they are real characters and in my opinion Dunnett’s works are pretty much as historically accurate as you can get when writing fiction. In the off chance that you reading this are a TV exec, please please consider picking up this series on screen. Please? It’s action packed, historically accurate, full of strong female characters, and full of plot twists.. pretty much a guaranteed success.
Well, that’s it for my review, I hope I’ve convinced you to pick up this series. Stay tuned for individual reviews of each book in the series! Meanwhile, please leave a comment or a message on our social media if you would like to discuss this series! Please, because I do not know anyone else who I can share this obsession with and I desperately need a reading/discussion buddy (You’ll understand once you read the books. There are just an insane number of plot twists).