DECEMBER 27, 2014 7:03 AM ET
ALAYA DAWN JOHNSON
The Game of Kings
by Dorothy Dunnett
The old fiction room at my high school was a small box of wonders, and no matter how long I spent investigating its seven and a half overstuffed shelves, I never stopped discovering treasures. When I was sixteen, the shelf which held authors A through D divulged a small, yellowing paperback with a splashily romantic cover: a long-limbed blond man in Renaissance dress, gripping both a woman and a rapier. The title was The Game of Kings, its author was Dorothy Dunnett, and reading it was going to change my life.
Years later, I would discover how many other writers, across varied genres, shared this foundational influence. I’ve come to think of Dunnett as the literary equivalent of the Velvet Underground: Not many people bought the books, but everyone who did wrote a novel.
The Lymond Chronicles follow the minor Scottish nobleman Francis Crawford of Lymond, a dark star whose gravitational charisma pulls in everyone around him: friends, lovers, enemies (and some who are all three at one time). We see him through a kaleidoscope of viewpoints over the course of the six dense, continent- and decade-spanning novels.