Queen’s Play is the second novel in the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett. Having proved his innocence, and escaped the death penalty in The Game of Kings, Francis Crawford of Lymond goes to France as a spy for Mary of Guise, the Queen Dowager of Scotland. She believes her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scot’s, life is in danger in the French court, where she resides as the dauphin’s betrothed. Lymond agrees to investigate, and begins to win his way into the French court in disguise.
It takes awhile before we even know which character Lymond is, since his identity isn’t initially revealed. He has donned an unlikely disguise, and uses it to become the court darling as he parties and schemes the nights away. At first, it seems that he is merely playing a part to obtain information, but it soon becomes clear that his role is beginning to control him. Lymond has spent so many years as a prisoner, a galley slave, and then an outlaw, that now that he has some freedom, it threatens to destroy him.
This is a dense story, with multiple plot twists, and an enigmatic main character. Dunnett does a wonderful job of recreating the French court, and her characters are vivid and unforgettable. Most vivid of all is Lymond, who continues to baffle, frustrate, and fascinate the people around him, and his readers. While it wasn’t an easy read, I loved this novel, and it is an important stepping stone in the Lymond Chronicles. Dunnett is the best historical fiction author I’ve read, and she’s a great read-alike for lovers of Patrick O’Brien.