Saturday, July 27, 2013


The character of Philippa Somerville pretty well stole my heart in the second half of the prior Lymond novel, The Disorderly Knights, as I watched her turn from passionate Lymond-hater to grudging Lymond supporter largely via her well-developed sense of fair play. You've got to enjoy any character who can not only admit she's wrong, but take all the necessary steps to redress the wrongs she's done in thought or deed. Philippa is, in other words, a character with character. And she's not even a grown-up yet as that novel ends!

In Pawn in Frankincense, she is still quite young* but that doesn't stop her doing exactly what she wants, which in this case is to take off in search of Lymond that she might continue to make up for her earlier bad opinion of him by helping him in his current quest in a way that, she has decided, only she can. Even though she really doesn't know nothing about nursing no babies, as it were.

Babies? Yes, babies. For it turns out that Lymond is a daddy, having apparently fathered an illegitimate son on the lovely but perhaps slightly foolish Oonagh O'Dwyer in between bouts of derring do back in Queen's Play. Which son, partly through Oonagh's own questionable choices and partly through the machinations of Graham Reid Mallett, revealed last novel as the Moriarty to Lymond's Holmes, has been hidden away somewhere in the Ottoman Empire (!) and, as Pawn in Frankincense opens, is basically being used as the titular pawn by Mallett. Lymond, of course, claims not to care all that much about a mere by-blow but he'll be damned if anybody gets used as a human shield by his enemy. Philippa, though, dear Philippa, is not fooled, and bullies her way onto the team solely by means of her advanced emotional intelligence, even though she has no idea how she can really be of help. So she just starts learning stuff along the way. Like, oh, Arabic and Turkish, for a start. Go, Philippa, go!

Meanwhile, another remarkable woman has shown up on the scene, the fabulous and enigmatic Marthe, who is attached to Team Lymond as the assistant to the builder of the world's most expensive spinet, which TL is charged with delivering on behalf of the King of France (remember, Lymond's prior exploits on behalf of the current Queen of Scots who is also the Dauphine of France have landed him a French title even though he's Scottish) to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Thus giving TL the perfect cover for looking for the baby McGuffin.

But back to Marthe. Marthe, Marthe, Marthe. She is blond and blue-eyed and comes off as kind of cold hearted and genuinely doesn't care if other people think poorly of her and devastatingly cunning and intelligent and manipulative and cynical and... sound like anyone we know? I mean, Sebastian and Viola called, they want their bit back, amirite?

No, seriously, amirite? Because all we get are hints that somehow, this French woman with a French name might possibly be, somehow, rather closely related to Lymond. Whom, by the way, she cannot stand. Um, wow. Just wow.

And it all ends, bizarrely and very excitingly, in a live chess (but not Doctor Who live; in this case, live means "people used as pieces" not "currents of electricity running through the pieces") game deep in the seraglio of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. And things get tense and tragic. And also weirdly satisfying in a way I totally did not see coming.

I now already want to go back to the first book and read all these again -- and I'm not even finished with the series!

The blurb for the next Lymond novel, The Ringed Castle, indicates that his next adventure is largely in Russia. But with things as they've ended here, I cannot imagine how that's going to come to pass. But I don't have to. The brilliant, the wonderful, the mind boggling Dorothy Dunnett done it for me.

*But turns out to be not quite as young as I've been thinking. Lymond speaks of her and treats her as younger than she is for a variety of good, if irritating, reasons, and since a lot of the fun of reading these books is being misled by Lymond, well, there you go. At any rate, as becomes clear in this novel, Philippa is 15 going on 16, so probably newly nubile, and given the adventures she has, it's probably just as well that most everybody believes she's still a kid -- though, of course, the concept of the teenager had a few centuries before it really became a thing. As such.

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