"Not to every young girl is it given to enter the harem of the Sultan of Turkey and return to her homeland a virgin." Now that's what I call an attention getting opening! The Ringed Castle begins book #5 in the series as Philippa returns home to England a very self assured young woman and Francis has hitched his wagon to the mysterious Guzel and heads to Russia to bring Tsar Ivan and his army out of the dark ages with the aid of Francis' highly trained mercenary corps.
As Francis treads the treacherous waters of the Russian court and political intrigues, there is a traitor amongst his troop who has been hired to kill him. At the same time, Philippa is called to court to serve as lady in waiting to Mary Tudor and the delightfully evil Countess Margaret Lennox continues her intrigues against Francis and Philippa. Eventually Francis is ordered by the Tsar to leave Russia, and after a harrowing sail through the dangerous waters of the northern seas, Francis comes to London as part of Russia's trade embassy. There he is reunited with his wife, Philippa, who has stumbled across a long hidden mystery regarding Francis' paternity.
As with the first four books in the series, Francis Crawford is a fascinating hero, and is as suave, debonair, flawed and fascinating as only a 16th Century version of James Bond could be. While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I didn't find it as fast paced as the previous four, particularly the time spent in Russia, although necessary to set up the rest of the story. What I very much enjoyed was the maturation of Philippa and she has become the perfect foil for Lymond, she matched word for word in all their verbal battles and was the highlight of the book. I am dying to read the last book in the series, Checkmate and anxiously await the answers to just who fathered Francis Crawford of Lymond. Five stars.
on March 28, 2002
Volume IV of the Lymond Chronicles shows a marked improvement from the somewhat draggy Pawn In Frankincense, if not quite climbing the storytelling heights of the first three episodes.
Ringed Castle spins two riveting tales, Lymond's attempted remaking of Ivan the Terrible's Russia and Philippa's rise into the upper reaches of the English Royal Court. Vivid supporting characters abound: explorer Diccon Chancellor, chess afficiando Tsar Ivan, astrologer John Dee, and Margaret Lennox, Elizabethan femme fatale. The evocation of the Kremlin is gorgeously detailed, as are Lymond & company's adventures in Russia's unforgiving winter and the heartstopping voyage back to England -- Dunnett's uncanny ability to recreate the exotic past with such force you feel yourself there is in full flower. The book's first two thirds are excellent.
But as in the previous volume, Ringed Castle starts to feel like work down the backstretch. Dunnett's authorial sleight of hand in hiding much of Lymond's viewpoint until the final pages begins to frustrate in its familiarity, this ruse particulary trying given the ongoing story regarding his mysterious parentage.
One hopes for less of this in the final volume...
on June 14, 2001
Most reviews of the Lymond series focus on Francis Crawford of Lymond, the enigmatic, often-tortured central character around whom all the other characters revolve. This isn't surprising because he is the central player on the stage. But my favorite character is Philippa, not just because she is genuinely good, but because whenever she enters a scene, it simply begins to sparkle.
Dorothy Dunnett obviously feels a great love for Philpipa because she gives her the best lines and gave her a marvelous sense of humor. She is a wonderful character, both funny and wise. But her greatest attribute is her strong moral character, her desire to do the right thing. In the prior novel, her desire to save Lymond's son caused to her to risk everything--not everyone would become a member of a harem in an effort to save a life. In Ringed Castle, her desire to reconcile Lymond with his family causes her to place herself at great risk.
With regard to Ringed Castle, I didn't find it as consistently compelling as Pawn in Frankincense, but it is still a wonderful book, particularly the haunting and tragic voyage back to England and the last 100 pages at the English court.
I have a tinge of sadness in the realization that I have only one more installment to see how it all ends, to see if Philippa can ultimately tame Lymond.
Luckily, this series is so strong on many levels I can look forward to many productive and enjoyable re-readings.
on July 6, 1999
In Novemeber 1997 in Orinda CA, on a book tour for her latest Niccolo book, I had the pleasure to hear Dorothy Dunnett read aloud the "Revels" scene (essentially the last part of Part Three, Chapter 9 from The Ringed Castle) which is my favorite scene in the entire series. She is truly a remarkable woman, still hearty at 75, with a wit and intelligence rarely scene in real life. She told us she reads numerous (sometimes hundreds!) of history books before writing each novel to make sure that nothing in the novels contradicts anything from known history. She has created in the Lymond Chronicles the best historical fiction I have ever read, and the most compelling fiction of any genre I have ever read. When she does her book tour for the final Niccolo book in 2000, be sure to go see her--it may be your last chance to see one of the most remarkable women authors of the twentieth century.
on December 13, 2000
This book has less action in it than the preceeding novels in this series, but even so, more action than most. We see our hero making his way in an 15 Century Russia. As each book goes by I find that I have difficulty maintaining a liking for this man. He is extremely hard and bitter, and appears to have no loyalties to friendship while he tries to make his point. Even so, I find I still have to keep reading because these books are so powerful. In this book Lymond falls in love, but in true Lymond fashion, feels that he can't share this with anyone, let alone his lady love. I await with much trepidation the final installment in this series in order to find out if Lymond bears any human characteristics or not.
on June 27, 1998
In The Ringed Castle, Dunnett expands her screen. The 16th Century was a time when the world was tittering and swaying on the edge of a global world. Lymond, in Russia, and in his relationship with Chancellor seems to be aware of this and be reaching for something much bigger even than Russia. They both seem to be sailing into the age of Englishtment and the voyage is lethal and dangerous. Within 100 years, that complex world they know will be utterly destroyed and replaced with something much more grim. In this book Lymond finally falls in love. (I also wish Dunnett would include translations for her non-bilingual readers.) I, personally, don't think I have ever been more enthralled by a hero.
on November 24, 1997
I am a big fan of the Lymond series by Dorothy Dunnett, though following her character Francis Crawford of Lymond through his many complex journeys is anything but predictable. Lymond's character becomes almost difficult to enjoy at times, but ever more fascinating as the reader watches Lymond make his life choices and then reap the consequences; some of them quite terrible. In this installment, his allegiance to Ivan of Russia gives Crawford extraordinary power and leadership, but makes him a hard man, even harder than he has been in previous books.
on October 7, 1997
I just wish the author had translated all the
foreign language dialogue, poems, songs,
quotations, etc. used in the Lymond Chronicles;
a great many of which I'm still trying to
decipher... Is there a support group?