Early in this book, Lymond is cornered in the streets of Lyon by various people intent on murdering him. With his companion Philippa Somerville he embarks on a high-speed chase through the streets and over the rooftops, involving extreme physical danger, courage, agility and a healthy measure of quick-witted verbal assaults on his attackers.
It’s a throwback to a similar episode in “Queens’ Play”, but it’s also a fair metaphor for the whole Lymond series. As a reader, I spent much of my time feeling rather like Philippa – pitchforked into situations of which I had no experience; forced to keep up by finding a mental toughness and agility I didn’t know I possessed.
This is the epitome of great historical fiction. Dunnett doesn’t stop to explain anything; she makes few concessions to a modern readership’s sensibilities; but she invites us into the sparkling, complex, contradictory world of the mid-sixteenth century, and shows us exactly what made that world tick. And in the process, she shows us a lot about what we too are capable of achieving.
I tend to read this book when I need to walk taller, when I need to achieve the impossible.