Katherine Arden's Blog

March 20, 2020

Book Review: Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (aka the series opener to my favorite series)

Being a fan of Game of Kings—of any Dunnett novel—is a strange experience. The fandom is passionate, but of plenty of folks, understandably, don’t get what the fuss is about. Dunnett makes no concessions to readers. You have to think about what you are reading. With Dunnett, it’s important to consider the possibilities and implications of each interaction—which can take you out of the story.

Plus, Dunnett is given to quotations in Renaissance French, Spanish, and Latin without the benefit of translation (which can also take you out of the flow) And her hero frequently comes off as a terrible person, although he invariably has his reasons.

But if you are willing to do what the author demands, (the thinking and the Latin Googling, and the adapting yourself to her style), what you get is a dazzling portrait of the High Rennaissance, with an equally dazzling cast of characters at its heart.

In Game of Kings, the first book in the Lymond Chronicles, Francis Crawford of Lymond, disgraced younger son of the a noble Scottish family, returns to Scotland, an outlaw, after a long absence. The year is 1547, Henry VIII’s young son Edward is on the throne of England, and skirmishing between England and Scotland is happening all along the borders.

With this background of turmoil, and at the head of a band of fellow outlaws, Francis will reunite with his estranged family, strike up a complex friendship with the heir to a great estate, and with his outlaws, interfere in the political workings of England and Scotland—but is he betraying his country or saving it, trying to clear his name, or just cause trouble?

The thing that strikes you first is Dunnett’s prose. It is dense, rich, distinctive, full of allusion, implication, and subtlety. Often she will imply something rather than tell the reader outright. Her descriptions—of clothing, food, weather, are incredibly evocative.

The second thing that strikes you is her hero, Francis. He starts off insufferable: a prosy, high-handed know-it-all, too clever and pretty for his own good, and in his second on-page appearance he breaks into his own mother’s castle, robs it, and sets it on fire. It’s hard to muster sympathy for him for the vast majority of the book. But nothing is as it appears, and if you are willing to put up with Francis, the unfolding of his story—including the purpose behind his actions—will hit you like a rock to the forehead late in the game, one of those fantastic ah-ha moments that every writer hopes to give their readers.

And fortunately Francis is surrounded by a vivid and incredibly appealing supporting cast, in which one is happy to find a lot of amazing women. Francis’ indomitable mother, his friend the blind but dauntless Christian Stewart, the romantic Agnes Herries, and the severely practical Kate Somerville are standouts.

Add to that a plot that ticks along like a good stopwatch, a dry, subtle sense of humor, and just a wonderfully romantic sensibility, without stooping to cliché, and you have a winning combination. Not romance in the sense of love or sex, although that plays a part. But romance in the sense of swordfights, last stands, desperate escapes, grand sacrifices, a larger-than-life hero. All those things can be found in Dunnett’s work, and she can and will dazzle you, like her hero, if you just give her time to do so.

To conclude, I have two pieces of advice for readers just embarking on their first read of Game of Kings:

1) If, after the first chapter, you find yourself asking, “Buy why was the pig drunk?” you aren’t reading closely enough.

2) Before passing judgment on Francis, wait until you find out who the Spanish nobleman is.
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Published on March 20, 2020 18:27

September 23, 2018


So....I want to tell you about a book. Not a Winternight book. The third book in the Winternight Trilogy, The Winter of the Witch comes out in January, and I'm sure I'll be talking you guys' ears off about that before long.

No, my other book. I'm talking about Small Spaces
Writing it was a delightful accident. See, I was on a Megabus to Boston, and I'd shelled out $5 extra for a seat right up front, so I could daydream and watch the open road. But it was incredibly foggy.

No open road. But the fog got me to thinking. What if the bus broke down? What if we were--trapped in the fog? What if things started coming out? (Writers think this kind of stuff when they're traveling, and I have a soft spot for scary books). Recall certain chapters in The Bear and the Nightingale

I scribbled some ideas in my notebook and put it away. But a few months later I found myself at loose ends waiting for editorial comments for The Girl in the Tower. I reopened my notebook. I saw the notes about the bus and the fog.

I got to thinking. Bus to me said school, which said childhood, Goosebumps, field trips, all kinds of things. I got to playing with ideas, not sure where I was going.

A few weeks later, I ended up with a draft horror novel. About a group of kids on a field trip that goes very wrong. About a misty autumn in Vermont, and an old curse, evil scarecrows and a haunted corn maze.

I had an absolute blast writing this book. It comes out on Tuesday, 9/25/2018. Next Tuesday, in fact. For all of you waiting for a Winternight book, I hope you will consider picking this one up in the meantime. It contains all my love for shivery autumn things, and might be just the fall fix you need before Halloween.

Enjoy the shivers, and as the book will tell you, avoid large places at night.

Happy Fall.
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Published on September 23, 2018 09:40

June 12, 2018

Giveaway going on for The Girl in the Tower

The title pretty much says it all. My publisher is giving away fifty paperbacks of The Girl in the Tower here on Goodreads. If you want one, or want to give one to a friend, now is the time!

The Girl in the Tower
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Published on June 12, 2018 05:45 Tags: giveaway

November 5, 2017

Goodreads Choice Awards?

For the three of you out there who aren't Gaiman or Rowling voters...I present The Bear and the Nightingale for your awards consideration :)

Voting ends today. Support authors! Go vote!



Should I blog about things? Would ppl read if I blogged here?

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Published on November 05, 2017 08:49