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Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles

For very odd reasons that will go unspecified at the moment, I may need to re-read one of the volumes of this series. And I got to wondering about how many of you have read it, and what you all think about it. And because I am a DW/LJ kind of person, that means it's time for a poll!

So, the Lymond Chronicals by Dorothy Dunnett:

Are among the most awesome books ever written!
Are quite good, although they suffer from problems such as a bit too much melodrama and the stereotypes of the time in which they were written.
Are OK. I don't regret having read them, but I'm not tempted to read them again (especially given how long they are).
Are pretty bad. And they took me forever to read, too.
Are terrible! OMG, I can't believe people actually re-read them!
Are something I have not read, but I have heard of them.
Are something else that I will explain in comments

For the completely uninitiated: Dorothy Dunnett's Excellent Adventures. ( And I don't like the Niccolò series nearly as much.)

This entry is also posted at Dreamwidth. Comment at either location, as you prefer.


( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 15th, 2013 11:49 pm (UTC)
I opened vol 1 at random, read a passage of ham-handed exposition written in dialect ('Oh! 'a said that so the bystanders wad think this! but at the same time 'a did this other thing so people who needed to know wad be in on the secret!') and said No thanks. Addicted types protested that Dunnett is *never* ham-handed-- she keeps you in the dark as to What Really Happened for pages, if not volumes. That being my other bete noire, I said Really, no thanks.

From all I've heard, I think there's an optimal age for encountering Francis in all his H/C glory, and once past it he and his author are going to get on your nerves something ferocious.
Jun. 16th, 2013 01:20 am (UTC)

Some people I very much respect have noted that she doesn't always play fair with her readers in terms of the secrets she keeps. I can't argue with that.

There isn't all that terribly much of the eye-dialecty stuff, but I have a moderate amount of patience for it. It's much the worst in the first volume, IIRC. As rushthatspeaks notes, below, the first volume does have the most weaknesses. And of course, that's a serious problem for a series that runs to six 600-page volumes.

I'm perfectly willing to admit that the most compelling parts of it tend to be "id" fiction, the way some fanfiction is id fic (there's tons of hurt/comfort, for example), and not everyone likes that. The Mr. refers to the series as The Perils of Lymond.

Jun. 20th, 2013 04:04 am (UTC)
Heh, judging by many of the gripes I've been seeing in writing advice and meta on the subject, I share your patience with eye-dialect to a very pronounced degree. (In my case I think the high tolerance is mainly down to childhood reading of so much older fiction and poetry, especially 19th C. stuff that was just chock-full of it, and maybe also a bit of the influence of local material transcribing local spoken pidgin into written form.)
Aug. 5th, 2013 07:31 am (UTC)
I just searched Volume 1 (Game of Kings) in Kindle for the word "wad" and couldn't find it Was your example a genuine one? As for being kept in the dark about stuff, well, if that's your bete noir, you are right to steer clear.
Aug. 5th, 2013 10:47 am (UTC)
Re: Dialect
Quoting from twenty year old memory. At the time I registered it as 'intended as Scots dialect, not quite Rabbie Burns level of impenetrable'.
Jun. 16th, 2013 12:07 am (UTC)
I bounced off the first few pages something fierce and never went back.
Jun. 16th, 2013 01:23 am (UTC)

The start of the first volume is amazingly impenetrable, but I first read the books so many years ago (during my first or second year of college, IIRC) that I can't remember what I thought of it. I think I was intrigued and wanted to figure out what the hell was going on.

Did you ever read Tanith Lee's Cyrion? (It's based on Lymond, to a large extent, particularly the parts of the story where he's in the Ottoman Empire.)

Jun. 16th, 2013 02:40 am (UTC)
I read Cyrion, but it was so long ago (probably two decades!) that I don't remember a thing.
Jun. 17th, 2013 12:46 am (UTC)

Oh, well! I like Cyrion, because he's snarky and clever. And the book has the trademark Lee lushness and underlying menace.

Jun. 16th, 2013 01:09 am (UTC)
I think they're mostly very good, but they have significant structural issues and some problems with pacing. The first half of the first book is too slow in some ways and too fast in others, some events are awkwardly timed-- this is mostly because of when certain things actually happened historically, but then Dunnett ought to have structured her plot more to accommodate the events she obviously knew perfectly well happened historically at xyz time-- and the funniest scene in the series doesn't give the punchline enough time to breathe before moving on.

That said, they're ambitious in a set of directions I haven't seen much, and they really do carry off a vast amount of the unusual things they're trying to do. I admire and enjoy them but do not reread often.
Jun. 16th, 2013 01:27 am (UTC)

I can see that, about the first volume. On re-reads, I'm always rather amazed that I got through the first parts on my first reading of it in college. And then I hit the Richard/Frances in the woods section and lose my head again.

The amount of angst she puts her characters through is prodigious. On my last re-read, I actually started to question some of it, which in a way makes me sad: it makes me think I'm getting old and cynical. The extremes of the emotional level remind me of manga at its strongest.

Jun. 16th, 2013 03:45 am (UTC)
Hmmm.... I tried reading the first book some years ago. But I can't really judge objectively because at that time, I was searching for some slashy action and that was not what I was getting, so I stopped (didn't finished the first book). But not because it wasn't lovely, but because that was not what I was looking for at the moment. So I suspect I'm not really being helpful here. I think I found it nicely written, but it didn't capture me. Sometimes a piece of fiction captivates me wholly even when it doesn't meet my expectatives, but this time it wasn't the case.
Jun. 17th, 2013 12:37 am (UTC)

The series actually has a couple of canon gay interactions, but neither is very happy or shiny. On the other hand, there are lashings of hero-worshipping subtext going on between Our Hero and a couple of other young men (Will Scott, Jerrod Blythe), and the love-hate relationship he develops with the Big Bad of the series (now there's a man who could give Ukoku/Nii a run for his money) has a lot of screwiness that has a definite sexual feel to it.

You don't care much for hurt/comfort, so I can't pitch it to you from that point of view, either! XD

Jun. 18th, 2013 10:34 am (UTC)
Ha, ha, I'm not much into hero-worship, either. The relationship with the Big Bad is what would sound more interesting for me here. I don't know, maybe I'll give it a try some time, when I'm more open to whatever the story brings me, instead of being so focused in what I want it to have.
Jun. 16th, 2013 06:52 am (UTC)
I would say they are flawed AND are among the most awesome books ever written. Coincidentally, I was attempting to sell a friend on them today!
Jun. 17th, 2013 12:42 am (UTC)

They really are pretty awesome! I found some of the endless Lymond-abuse a little less appealing on my last re-read, so I ratcheted my own rating down a notch. But that made me feel sad: there's something so id-tastic about Lymond's endless trip through emotional and physical hell, with a sneer in his voice and smile on his beautiful face. The fact that I'm not as entertained by it as I used to be can't be a good thingl.

Jun. 18th, 2013 08:25 pm (UTC)
Haha, I agree with this assessment. Every time I was about ready to throw the book against the wall (I've only read the first two but plan to continue) something awesome happened, or an awesome bit of writing made my jaw drop or my ribs hurt from laughing.
Jun. 20th, 2013 12:17 pm (UTC)

Why am I not surprised that you have read and liked this series?


It's one of those things that I feel compelled to read over again periodically, like Lord of the Rings.

I think the most wonderful happy scene in there – although it ends sadly – is the word game in the Queen's Masqueries warehouse: "And Languish Lock'd in L!"

Jun. 16th, 2013 07:39 pm (UTC)
In the end, I voted for awesome, even if the points made in the second option feel perfectly fair and valid to me, too. It's just that, you know, when it's been a few years, and I blow the dust off of the covers and start reading again ... the magic is still there.

Admittedly, it may help that most of the other stuff on my shelves is slick, modern urban fantasy and the likes.

(By the way, have you read any of her other books, aside from the Niccolo ones? The Johnson Johnson ones always sounded sort of intrigueing from the blurbs in the back of my Lymond novels, but I've never even seen one of them. Plus, I've no idea how/if they would work, style-wise.)

[edited because I should really take the time to read the last lines in people's posts, too, ahem]

Edited at 2013-06-16 07:43 pm (UTC)
Jun. 17th, 2013 12:45 am (UTC)

LOL, I do that too!

I never did read any of her mysteries. I probably should, because in times past, I've been a big fan of "cosy" British mysteries.

Once upon a time, oyceter and I were discussing how Lymond would make a great manga series. The emotional temperature would really suit a manga treatment.

Jun. 17th, 2013 08:12 pm (UTC)
I think the Lymond books are awesome, though I did have trouble getting started with the first book. It didn't really hook me until on the second try. The Niccolò books just didn't grab me the same way - I'm still to finish that series.

I've read one of her mysteries, since it was available in local library. It was okay. I wouldn't mind reading more of them, but they seem almost impossible to find nowadays.
Jun. 20th, 2013 12:08 pm (UTC)

Yeah, Niccolò just didn't do it for me.

Used book vendors like AbeBooks have those mysteries from time to time, but the shipping costs may be prohibitive for you. Although AbeBooks includes British vendors, and that might work better for you.

Jun. 21st, 2013 10:22 pm (UTC)
(found your LJ via flemmings ...)

I read them because of lineage, ie, clearly a LOT of writers take their inspiration from Lymond. My verdict is that she is a really really really good writer, but I hate all the things she writes about, I think she treats women quite poorly; I ragequit the series after what happens with Oonagh in Knights, and Joleta ... I did not like how Dunne wrote her, either :/ As someone else said, the withholding of info gets old after one book, although I think one can guess about 50% of what's going on if one takes copious notes and/or develops a probabilistic model based on Dunne's predilictions, which is the route I took XD

Lymond is incredibly well-done idfic -- but it's not my id, unfortunately. I imagine that it would have been the Best Thing Ever, had it been XD Still, she is very instructive, almost a master class in writing (especially misdirection; I stopped counting how many times she pulled that one). And I learned a decent amount of history from the books I did get through XD

Edited at 2013-06-21 10:25 pm (UTC)
Jun. 22nd, 2013 12:23 am (UTC)

The business with Oonagh was pretty spectacularly awful. I remember very freaked out the first time I read it (which has to have been some 30 years ago ... ). Joleta - well, there is a reason that she turned out the way she did, and I think Dunnett thought it was horrifying too. Gabriel was really making her in his own image, as well as using her, and there was no way that was going to end well.

So you didn't finish the series?

Jun. 22nd, 2013 11:11 am (UTC)
Ahahaha no. As I said, I can see the appeal, but the books clearly weren't meant for me. I got as far as finishing Disorderly Knights. XD
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )


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